I could use some advice about genealogy grant fundraising

piggy bank on top of a pile of pennies

I’ve spent the past 3 or so years developing a docu-reality travel and adventure TV series based on my DNA results. An increasingly de-stabilizing world has well and truly forced that project to go on the back burner for the foreseeable future. As a dual British-American citizen, it isn’t merely imprudent to go to the places my DNA connects me to. It’s downright dangerous. However, that show was linked to a second project that I wanted to tackle. My plan was that having a ‘name value’ gained from the TV show would make this second project easier to tackle.  Nothing opens doors quite like having a media profile.

The second project has to do with my family tree. More precisely, the growing number of early 19th Century and late 18th Century American slave family branches within that tree in Virginia and the Carolinas. I’ve come around to thinking that the universe is telling me that, of the two projects, perhaps it’s the latter project that needs my focus.

What I would like to do is build the largest documented slavery-era family tree and make this available, for free, online. The goal is to support other American people of color to research their slavery era family tree branches. Yeah, I know, I think big. That’s just the way I roll.

I’ll give an example. Via my Edgefield ancestors alone, I am related to over 100 families, both black and white. Each is an enormous family with a mind-bending number of living descendants. More to the point, most of these families have their origins in Colonial Virginia, with roots extending into the Carolinas, and then further still down to Florida and then westwards through to Texas and Oklahoma.   I have countless black and white DNA cousins who know that they are all related but don’t know how. The keys are in records that have yet to be digitized.

That’s just one county in South Carolina. When you add other North and South Carolina counties and Virginia, well, the list of surnames is astounding.

ancient books

So, what I would like to do is spend a year, or perhaps two, donning the ole protective gloves an delving into dusty boxes and records vaults – and visit library and special collections repositories – and pour through the records to connect the dots. Well, it wouldn’t just be me, I’d have some respected names in the genealogy research field as trusty co-pilots.

This, of course, comes with a significant cost. $150,000 for a year’s dedicated research time. And around $225,000 for 2 years. This covers professional genealogists’ fees (the largest cost), an interactive website build & hosting plus travel + living costs (we’ll be on the road) and kit for documenting this journey as it unfolds (including social media content and updates).

I’m mulling over the best way to tackle fundraising. I could use some advice in all honesty.

There are 4 ways to go: 1) Crowd funding; 2) Grant funding; 3) Sponsorship; and 4) a combination of the three. 

If you were me, which one would you do?

I’d like to go the crowd funding route.  However, I just don’t think the average Joe and Jane will either care or get the point of the research and the website. Not at the start. Once the ball gets rolling, that’s when the general public’s interest kicks in.

I’ve done some initial research on genealogy-related grants. The majority of them are tiny (e.g. around $2,000). Grants from large funders seem to go to either universities or large research institutions.

Any recommendations for larger funding bodies who would be more inclined to fund this kind project would be most gratefully appreciated.

I’ve had little experience with corporate sponsorship. This avenue will require some research on my part.

Why this project?  Those of you who have been with this blog from the beginning know how transformative my own journey has been. You know what a sense of ‘self’ this journey has given me. And no doubt your own journey has done the same for you. I’d love to play a part of giving this priceless gift to others. I’m unique – I’ve loved the challenge of making discoveries. However, I appreciate that to many, such challenges are daunting and insurmountable. I’m all for reducing the barriers to discovery that researching enslaved ancestors brings.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this project. And any advice would be most welcome.

5 thoughts on “I could use some advice about genealogy grant fundraising

  1. Dear Sir,

    I have passed this particular blog post on to some other genealogists in my circle of contacts. They find your work interesting, and your desire to pursue grants interesting.

    I would be happy to place all of you in contact with each other to bounce ideas around for a possible solution.

    Raymond Sean Walters


  2. Due to a large area of this research being in what is considered the Appalachian region, perhaps that may offer some additional benefit toward finding some funding. I will suggest that you contact and apply for a grant through the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

    One never knows… please read the grant guidelines, specifically the “Preservation of documents, history and environment” which your project would fall under in my opinion.

    Click to access Application-Guidelines.pdf

    1. Thank you so much for all of the very helpful information you’ve so kindly given.

      And thank you for the offer to connect me to the genealogists in your circle. It is much appreciated.

      I’ve sent you my email address via Twitter.

      Kind regards,


  3. Would you be willing to share where you find grants in the small range? I’m trying to help my mom who is recently elected our city’s genealogy society president.

    1. Hi Paula. You might start with your local council, who may have small discretionary grants. Your best bet is going the crowd sourcing route for funds that are less than, say, $2,000.

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