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Nearly 500 people recently gathered for the inaugural Canadian Black History Summit held in a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The free conference, held April 16, 2016, was co-hosted by the nonprofitFamilySearch International (the genealogical arm of the Church) and the Ontario Black History Society.

Dr. Bryan Walls, summit keynote speaker (left), and Elder Weatherford T. Clayton, General Authority Seventy (right), discuss topics presented at the summit.

The inaugural event provided an opportunity for participants to connect with experts on black genealogy and history, specifically the Freedmen’s Bureau Project.

Attendees study the many displays of the Underground Railroad and national black historic sites, along with those provided by FamilySearch, at the Canadian Black History Summit.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project is a family history initiative to help both black Canadians and black Americans reconnect with their Civil War–era ancestors, focusing on the records of former U.S. slaves who were given citizenship. Thousands of volunteers are indexing or typing information from the Freedmen’s Bureau records to make them searchable in an online database. To date, the project is 78 percent complete.

Thom Reed, senior marketing manager of FamilySearch and a specialist for the Freedmen’s Bureau Project, urged the attendees to help complete the indexing of more than four million records that will be made public later this year.

“We are tearing down walls, because not having an ancestry is like not existing. The records we will be releasing in the fall are making it possible for individuals to find themselves for the first time,” said Reed.

Historian Darius Gray answers questions for audience members after his presentation at the summit.

The summit presenters included Darius Gray, author, historian, journalist and co-director of the Freedman’s Bank Project; Bryan Prince, author, historian and consultant; Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum; Thom Reed, FamilySearch senior marketing manager; Rosemary Sadlier, author and historian; and Dr. Bryan Walls, author and founder of the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum in Ontario, Canada.

“This speaks to me,” shared Gerard Richardson of Toronto, Ontario. A first-generation immigrant to Canada from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Richardson was covering the summit on behalf of Caribbean Camera, a Toronto newspaper. “I know there are so many other things I could have decided to do today, but I am so happy I came here instead.”

The First Baptist Church Choir ensemble of Toronto, Ontario, provided a selection of gospel songs.

More information on the summit, visit the Canada Newsroom.