The Boy Scout book suggested getting birth certificates, death certificates, and census records, which Burroughs did. Another recommendation was to visit the family cemetery. There, he found valuable information, as well as some new mysteries.
"What shocked me was that there were people buried in our family lot, and I didn't know any of the names. And Dad said, 'I don't have a clue, go ask your grandmother.' So I went to her, and she only knew who one of them was."
Burroughs began scrutinizing death certificates in public records and eventually learned that his great-great-grandmother and her sister were buried there, along with his great-grandmother and great-grandfather. "It amazes me to this day," he says, "because these are my family ancestors buried where they were supposed to be, and still no one knew they were there."
Burroughs interviewed his father again, and learned that his great-grandfather was from the Carolinas, although he couldn't remember if it was North or South Carolina.
The answer became a bit clearer when Burroughs began reading a little red notebook that his grandfather had kept. The book contained notes about his grandfather's parents and children, including where and when each person had been born. That told Burroughs that his great-grandfather had been born in Spartanburg, S.C. After consulting a geographical dictionary, he found that Spartanburg was both a city and a county. But it took him 15 years to learn whether his great-grandfather had lived in the city or the county.
Burroughs is still researching his family, 27 years after he began. He has been able to trace his roots back to 1773, and he has discovered family members in 16 states and four countries. He hopes to search even further back in time, but documentation grows scarce in the early 1700s, and very rarely crossed the Atlantic.
Still, Burroughs, who has written the book "Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide to Tracing the African-American Family Tree," (Fireside, $16) insists that the most difficult part of researching African-American ancestry is not related to slavery. It is, he says, in the 75 years that followed.