My name is Michael Black, and among other things, I am a genealogist. When I’m not working on genealogy or working for a living, I can often be practicing my cat-herding techniques with the den of Cub Scouts that I lead, or found mixing and enjoying tiki cocktails in our tiki room.
My fascination with genealogy began when I was fairly young. I loved spending time with my grandparents and listening to stories of their childhoods. They also passed on stories of relatives who died long before my grandparents were even born—as a child of about 10 years old, that amazed me. But it was a television show that cemented my interest in family history. In early 1977, when I was 10 years old, Alex Haley’s Roots appeared on TV and I watched every episode live with my family in our living room. What Alex Haley had done was what I decided I wanted to do—to document an unbroken chain of family back to our Old World roots.
The question of where we, or specifically I, came from is one that’s been a passion of mine ever since. Whenever I found myself unhappy or struggling for meaning in life, following this passion led me to a happier place. When I found myself dissatisfied with Civil Engineering at U.C. Berkeley, I took a class in archaeology and learned about a field of study that could help us trace our origins in the absence of written records, often long before written records even existed. My fascination with the deep past led to paleoanthropology and fieldwork in East Africa, the Near East, and Europe.
I eventually earned a Ph.D. from Duke University in the field of paleoanthropology (my degree was actually in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy), and took a post-doctoral position back in Berkeley, where my passion with the deep human past had begun. I worked with the world-class osteological collections at the Hearst Museum, published a textbook on human osteology, and met and fell in love with the woman who would become my wife. She worked/works as the Collections Manager at the Hearst Museum, and when a position to manage the vast information held by the Hearst Museum came up, I leapt at the opportunity. We’ve worked together at that museum for nearly 17 years so far (a full 17 years in May 2023).
In that time, we bought a house together, got married, did a DIY remodel of our house and garage, had a daughter together, sold our house, bought a more spacious house in the suburbs in which we could raise our daughter, and started major DIY repairs on that house to keep it from falling apart. And these days, with a 8½-year-old daughter, that’s just about all we do—work and raise our daughter.
And that is why you can often find me, in those few quiet moments after our daughter’s bedtime and before our own, enjoying a classic mid-century tiki cocktail. I try to find time when I can to work on genealogy, but it’ll be quite some time before I can spend days on end indulging my genealogical habit as I did before becoming a father.