National Genealogical Society issues apology for racial discrimination in organization

Included in the society’s discriminatory history is the exclusion of Black members and the perpetuation of a racist anti-race-mixing ideology known as eugenics.

The National Genealogical Society (NGS), an organization founded in 1903 as an ancestry tracking service for families, has issued a public apology for its past racism and exclusion.

The NGS, which is now one of the largest genealogical organizations nationwide, began receiving complaints in 2017 about lacking diversity among its panelists, and came under increased scrutiny later following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, per the Washington Post.

The National Genealogical Society, an organization founded in 1903 as an ancestry tracking service for families, has issued a public apology for its past racism and exclusion. (Screenshot: YouTube – National Genealogical Society)

An investigation into the society’s records was prompted, revealing a history of discriminatory values and practices promoted by NGS founders and early members, according to a new report published by the society.

“In order to be credible, we have to be transparent, and we have to fully discover what our past was, as so many organizations are doing right now,” Kathryn Doyle, president of the NGS, told the Post.

According to the apology and accompanying report, publicized Thursday, the NGS was founded amid the rise of eugenics, a racist ideological movement promoting the breeding of white descendants of European ancestry as a way to keep humanity “pure,” according to the outlet.

Among the society’s founders was Joseph Gaston Baillie Bulloch, a physician who served as its president from 1909 to 1912, and wrote an article in a quarterly NGS publication stating that the use of genealogy should be to protect the white race from “tainted blood” and genetic mixing, per the report.

The new NGS report states that “it is reasonable to assume that other founders may have shared Bulloch’s beliefs in eugenics or racism and that those beliefs informed the exclusionary practices NGS maintained throughout its early years.”

Additionally, decades after NGS was founded, the society’s members voted to officially ban all Black people from membership in 1960 after a Black archivist attended a meeting and received an application to join yet-to-be-integrated NGS.

An NGS member told the Post in 1960: “Negroes… have nothing in common with us, generally speaking.” 

The society did not admit a Black member until 1972, when prolific genealogist James Dent Walker was approved to join. Walker went to be inducted into the National Genealogy Hall of Fame in 1999, per the report.

In its apology, NGS pledged to continue efforts to confront its racist past through further research and accountability efforts as well as committing to increasing the diversity of its leadership board and conference speakers.

The society has aimed to have one quarter of its panelists be people of color, discussing issues relating to marginalized groups and their experiences, per the report, a goal it says it exceeded in 2022.

NGS has additionally partnered with the Federation of Genealogical Societies, joining a total membership of over 8,600 professional and amateur genealogists and over 550 genealogical organizations nationwide.

Doyle told the Post that NGS officials “haven’t looked at everything yet,” and the work is ongoing to uncover and confront information about its history of exclusion.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!