Helping Native Islanders find their families, keep their land


HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WSAV) – It is a program designed to help native islanders on Hilton Head Island find their history and make sure their property stays in the family.

The Heritage Library is teaming up with the town of Hilton Head, the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and the Gullah Geechee Culture and Land Preservation task force.

They are working on an initiative called the Heirs Property Family Research Project.

The project is designed so families can do genealogy research to help them find out more about their family’s land and history.

That then will help them learn how to obtain titles and deeds to property so it cannot be sold or developed without the family’s consent.

“Setting up this project was one of the recommendations in our Gullah Geechee Culture Preservation Project Report and was among those Town Council adopted when we prioritized the recommendations,” said Sheryse DuBose, the Historic Neighborhoods Preservation Administrator for the Town of Hilton Head Island. “There are several Gullah Geechee families on the Island that need help navigating heirs’ property issues. This is just one way we are trying to guide them.”

“Over the years, we have become aware of the heirs’ property situation families face and we already have worked with some families on their histories. Our partnership with the Town is a more formal process and we are certainly glad to help those families that need our services,” said Barbara Catenaci, Executive Director of the Heritage Library. “We have the resources and a group of well-trained volunteers available to lend their time and expertise to those families that are anxious to settle heirs’ property matters.”

Heirs’ property is land that has been passed down from the original deed holder to future generations without the benefit of a formal will or probate. Although the family members know the land is theirs, their claim has not been established by the county, thus leaving the family without a title. This land is restricted from development and vulnerable to exploitation, no matter who lives there or who pays the taxes.

Families seeking assistance must be referred to the program through the Town’s Historic Neighborhoods Preservation office. There is no cost to participate. Volunteers will help family members delve into census records and other documents and create a family tree using online genealogy tools.

Heritage Library volunteers involved with this project are Hilton Head Island native Murray Christopher, Linda Piekut, Rosemary Staples, Rick Bart, and Grinnell Griffin, who all have extensive experience doing family research and deed validation.

For more information, contact Sheryse DuBose at 843-341-4683 or, or Barbara Catenaci at 843-686-6560 or

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