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AMITE, La. (WGNO) – Antoinette Harrell says she never really listened to her mother’s stories about her relatives, until one day when she realized that she ought to be paying attention.

Her mother was the only source of information about the Harrell family tree; an oral history that Harrell decided to record and research.

That began her mission as a genealogist– trying to find the missing branches in her family tree, and help other families do the same. The search has taken her from libraries to civil court records written in long-hand a century ago, to cemeteries, where the only clues are the faded names on gravestones.

She says she often starts with records from the U. S. Census Bureau ( 1870 was the first year the Census listed African Americans by name.

Harrell also does much of her detective work at the Tangipahoa Parish library and courthouse in Amite, where she’s always willing to help others begin a sometimes long journey.

“I enjoy giving them that gift of knowing, who am I?,” said Harrell.

“Everybody’s story is unique and beautiful. I just feel that I (take) that journey with them. It’s a gift.”