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SEE HOW: Tallahassee African American genealogy group wants to help you find your roots

Posted at 5:42 PM, Jan 12, 2024
  • During Tallahassee and Leon County's bicentennial celebration, the Tallahassee African American Genealogical Society is helping people find their roots.
  • If you want to learn the tools to find your ancestors, TAAGS is having a find your roots history and genealogy lesson for beginners. It will be held at the Perry Library on Saturday, February 10th from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  • A guest speaker of TAAGS Patrick Mason will speak more about finding his family roots and how his ancestor's stories illustrate the fight for equality. That will be at St John Missionary Baptist Church in the Fellowship Hall on January 14th from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Watch the video above to hear why this group is so passionate about the project.


It's a common theme for Tallahassee and Leon County's Bicentennial is history. For some of our neighbors, their history feels out of reach.

I'm Shamarria Morrison your Downtown neighborhood reporter.

During the city and county's bicentennial celebration, one group of Black elders is steering people in the right direction to finding their roots.

"There's a mistaken assumption that a lot of people have is like, oh, well, our family didn't do anything," Patrick Mason, a professor and chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst said. "Well, they did something. Right. They went to work, they made a living, they made a life."

Mason, born in Tallahassee, has spent decades both collecting and preserving his own family's rich history in Leon County.

"I began to read history books, where I find bits and pieces of information," Mason said.

A common roadblock for many Black Americans in our neighborhoods is the lack of documents historically kept of their ancestors here in Leon County.

Although challenging, Mason has reached back to discover about his great-great grandfather, a rarely talked about Leon County resident Charles H. Rollins.

The Florida State Library and Archives has only one readily tagged historically preserved photo of him.

Rollins was born in 1832.

"He was enslaved," Mason said.

But that wasn't the end of Rollins's story.

"After the end of the Civil War he began to get involved in a lot of institution buildings," Mason said.

One of those institutions is where Mason and I are standing at Old Lincoln High School. Lincoln opened in 1869 and was one of only three schools in the state providing high school to Black students.

"Charles Rollins was also a trustee of Lincoln School very early on," Mason said. "Rollins, Pierce, and another man named Henry Garnet founded the Mount Olive Prince Hall Mason's Lodge, a couple of blocks over. Rollins and Pierce were part of the founders of the Bethlehem Baptist District Association. That district association became the model for the Florida General Baptist Convention."

Gloria Jefferson Anderson graduated from Lincoln.

"I graduated 100 years after slavery ended," Jefferson Anderson, a Tallahassee native, researcher, and historian said.

Proctor and Jefferson Anderson are a part of the Tallahassee African American Genealogical Society's efforts to use this year's bicentennial to preserve history.

"There is a saying that once the old people die off a whole library goes with them," Jefferson Anderson said.

Jefferson Anderson has her journey on how she found out about her ancestors in Leon County.

It started at her family's home church, Testerina Primitive Baptist Church, since 1861.

"There's a cemetery behind the church. And it's called A New Hope cemetery. Many of my ancestors on the Jefferson side are buried in the cemetery," Jefferson Anderson said.

It wasn't easy to locate.

"When we find the cemetery, we have not found one headstone," Jefferson Anderson said.

At the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee, Charles Rollins is buriedin a family plot. He died in 1919.

"A flu epidemic, a pandemic, not dissimilar to the current time period," Mason said.

Rollins' story is living past his time on Earth.

"The last house he built in 1916, is still standing on old Bainbridge road, that was a property that he acquired in 1868. That property is still a part of the family," Mason said.

Before Jim Crow would take hold in Florida. During the reconstruction era, Rollins served as a Leon County Commissioner from 1874-1877 and in the Florida House of Representatives for Leon County in 1883.