(The Root) – I am fascinated by the history of Haiti, which was the first black-led republic in modern history. That legacy was covered in my PBS documentary series Black in Latin America. I've also enjoyed reading about it in two excellent books — Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, by Laurent Dubois, and The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon, by Philippe R. Gerard — so I couldn't wait to answer the following question.
"I am descended from Philippe Guerrier, a hero of Haiti's independence and a head of state. Could you help me trace this noble lineage?" —Christian Guerrier
Philippe Guerrier was a military general who served as the president of Haiti from 1844 to 1845. Already advanced in years when he took office, Guerrier died 11 months later at the age of 87.
To learn more about your forebear, you could start with early Haitian civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths online for Port-au-Prince, 1794-1843. These can be searched online for free at FamilySearch.org. You might also visit the Association de Généalogie d'Haïti website, or peruse a collection of Haitian genealogical sketches at Rootsweb, including material related to the Guerrier family. Genealogy.com also has a Haiti forum.
Good luck in your search, and let me know how it turns out!
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root.
Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.
This answer was provided in consultation with researchers from New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country's leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.