Peeling Back Layers of Ancestry

Duke IT analyst Alonzo Felder digs through archives to help individuals discover their roots

Duke IT analyst Alonzo Felder looks through documents from his own family history. His nonprofit, My Roots Foundation, helps people discover information about their genealogy. Photo by April Dudash
Duke IT analyst Alonzo Felder looks through documents from his own family history. His nonprofit, My Roots Foundation, helps people discover information about their genealogy. Photo by April Dudash

Name: Alonzo FelderPosition: IT analyst, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences Office of Technology ServicesYears at Duke: 31

What I do at Duke: We provide IT support for the Duke Global Health Institute, and that involves spec’ing out the computers. When we have a new hire that’s coming in and they need a computer on their desk, we’re the people who will help them decide what kind of computer and software that goes on it, and then we order it, set it up, orient them to our network and make sure their work environment is secure. We also do all sorts of troubleshooting primarily on hardware, the network and supported software. If there’s a problem, one of us will come and help with whatever the issue is.

What I love about Duke: I’ve been offered the opportunity to grow and advance and learn without staying in the same job. Though I’ve been here for 31 years, I’ve worked in about five to seven different departments. I’ve not felt like I’ve been stagnant.

When I’m not at work, I like to: I established a nonprofit, My Roots Foundation, so that I could really further my work in genealogy and ancestral research. I spend a fair amount of time helping people find their roots and talking with older people, just to learn the lessons that they have. One of the things that I’m keenly aware of is that our society seems to be losing a lot of institutional wisdom. What the My Roots Foundation focuses on is honoring your father and mother. We want to really help people to understand that the best of your forefathers lives inside of you. No matter who you come from, there’s some good things there, and we want to bring out the good that’s in your family.

If I had $5 million, I would: tell my wife that she could retire. I would pay all of my bills and my children’s student loans, and I would open up a storefront for My Roots Foundation and make it a community resource center.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: to change people’s hearts, to be able to help people to be more loving. Wow, talk about ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ I’d almost be afraid to have that superpower.

My first ever job: I was hired as a janitor when I turned 13 at my former elementary school, a little private Catholic school in St. Petersburg, Florida. I mopped and cleaned the bathrooms. I swept all the classrooms and swept all of the corridors and sidewalks.

Something most people don’t know about me: when I was in Gainesville, I worked for Student Government Productions. They’re sort of the roadies for incoming concerts. I have a lot of great memories of the one-on-one times with Ike and Tina Turner, Todd Rundgren and the Doobie Brothers. In the mid-70s we had Angela Davis on campus and I was one of the body guards. I was probably 100 pounds soaking wet.

The best advice I ever received: Mom was not big into consumerism, and her economic advice has been handed down to my children, with good results. She would always tell me that ‘if you come home at the end of the day with less money in your pockets than you had when you left, then this was not a good day.’

A pet peeve: people who end sentences with prepositions. Like, ‘Where you at?’