(Emory Wheel/Yashonandan Kakrania)

Crystal Anderson’s (11T) face lights up when she tells me about her genealogy research, a 23-year-long effort to piece together her family tree.

Crystal Anderson came to Emory University in 2008 as a Candler School of Theology student, earning her Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in scripture and interpretation. She now is the Title IX case manager in the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, maintaining data and files for cases and handling reporting.

In 2021, Crystal Anderson contributed her genealogy research to Emory’s In the Wake of Slavery and Dispossession Symposium. She made the website, titled “Gordon Chapel and the Making of a ‘Black Town,’” for a digital exhibit for the symposium’s complementary programming. The website features stories of her maternal family, the Gordons, after years of genealogy research. During the symposium, Crystal Anderson had a booth at both the Atlanta and Oxford campuses to present her research.

“I want to present a story of freedom, land ownership and coalescence not often heard of in the South after African American slavery,” Crystal Anderson wrote on her website.

Crystal Anderson became interested in genealogy research after a family reunion in 1998, where she read a booklet with different family members’ names and short stories and realized she had family members she did not know about.

“I was upset initially because, I mean, this is the information we should have known from day one,” Crystal Anderson said.

The family reunion inspired Crystal Anderson to learn her family members’ stories, not just know their names.

“I love seeing and knowing about my history, knowing where I came from,” Crystal Anderson said.

Hulaunda Anderson, Crystal Anderson’s sister, said that when Crystal Anderson started searching for family records, she had difficulties accessing readily available information. Crystal Anderson became determined to fill in the gaps.

“I could not picture myself sitting for hours and hours and digging through records, all these things, to find one piece of information,” Hulaunda Anderson said. “She … [is] very detail-oriented and will take the time to dig and dig, just to find someone’s last name or just to find out what year they were born.”

To research her family, Crystal Anderson went to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. in spring 2014. She saw her maternal great-great-grandfather’s name, Andrew Tillman Gordon, on a plaque for U.S. Colored Troops, Anderson wrote on her website.

“I was really excited,” Crystal Anderson said. “It’s just amazing that I didn’t even know that I had a family member, an ancestor, who got their name on a plaque in the nation’s capital.”

Crystal Anderson learned that Gordon fought in the Civil War and acquired land after the war. In 1868, a few years after the Civil War, Gordon bought his first property in Florida, which was 40 acres, from Rev. Solomon F. Halliday, a white Floridian settler. In 1875, he bought another 120 acres from Halliday.

Crystal Anderson found that her paternal great-great-great-grandfather George Hughes also acquired land, sold it and gave mineral rights to lumber, railroad and phosphate companies.

Learning about family land ownership history inspired Crystal Anderson to want to own land.

“Land gives people freedom,” she said. “It gives people ownership. You feel like a real American, a real citizen. Even if it is just a house, a small one, it gives you a sense of pride.”

Crystal Anderson also found that ancestors on both sides of her family were churchgoers, ministers and church leaders.

These findings were consistent with her upbringing, as she was brought up in a family of faith, with her father being a pastor and her mother being a missionary. She said she had encountered various challenges in life but her strong sense of faith kept her resilient.

“I’m just thankful for my upbringing because it was rooted and grounded in the scripture,” Crystal Anderson said. “It didn’t stray from the scripture. You need something that keeps you firm.”

Crystal Anderson found the overall respect for traditions in churches is being scrubbed while not all traditions are bad or need to change. She has great respect for the past, which is consistent with her interest in genealogy.

After years of research, Crystal Anderson compiled her findings into a book, “Gordon Chapel: United Family Heritage.” She accredited the book’s title to her cousin Pat McCollough. The book was only made available to Anderson’s family but she is planning to update the book and publish it under a new title.

Hulaunda Anderson said that Crystal Anderson started the research from scratch, and it was “amazing” to watch the whole process and learn from her findings. Hulaunda Anderson was not surprised to see Crystal Anderson doing amazing work in genealogy research, as she had always seen her sister reading and writing when they were growing up.

“It is just amazing that she has been able to accomplish so much with so little to start,” Hulaunda Anderson said. “But again, it is not a surprise to me, like, that’s just how she is. She won’t stop and just leave things as they are. She is a go-getter, and she will see things through.”

Music is also a big part of Crystal Anderson’s life. Hulaunda Anderson said they grew up singing in the choir. She found out Crystal Anderson had a gift for playing piano when she was in 11th grade. One day, Hulaunda Anderson and Montria Anderson heard music playing in a bedroom in their house and discovered it was Crystal Anderson playing the music.

“We thought we left the record player or the stereo on, and we’d go in there, and Crystal was playing,” Hulaunda Anderson said.

Crystal Anderson continued to pursue her interest in music in college. She attended the University of Florida, initially majoring in music. However, Crystal Anderson was not able to dedicate as much time to practicing music as she wanted to, so she ended up majoring in sociology and minoring in music.

Crystal Anderson even thought about giving up on music at one point, but her professor, Dr. Kevin Sharpe, told her not to quit and pushed her to continue pursuing music, which she came to appreciate years after.

“He came across like he really cared, and that is why I continued it,” Crystal Anderson said.

Sharpe was adamant about Crystal Anderson continuing to pursue music. Crystal Anderson’s parents were music teachers, so she said Sharpe acted as a parent to her by persuading her to continue pursuing music.

Anderson’s father sided with Sharpe, maintaining Sharpe was hard on Crystal Anderson because he “saw greatness in her,” Hulaunda Anderson said.

Hulaunda Anderson is proud to see all of Crystal Anderson’s accomplishments.

“She’s come out of her shell and has a lot to say,” Hulaunda Anderson said. 

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Heather(Zeyi) Lu (24C) is from Xinjiang, China, majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Law & International Studies. She enjoys exercising and baking outside of the Wheel.