When she was a child growing up in Lothian, Lyndra Pratt loved spending time with her grandmother, Margaret Ann Easton, at Easton's nearby farm.

Naturally, Pratt was curious about this woman she loved so dearly. What, she wondered, had her grandma's life been like? How had she become the way she was?

"Who are your parents?" Pratt asked one day when she was 8. "Where did they come from?"

Easton burst into tears.

That was 48 years ago, long before Pratt, now Lyndra Pratt Marshall, realized black Americans of her grandmother's time rarely wanted to discuss their lineage. The memories were too painful and details too hard to come by.

Marshall has turned her inquisitive nature into a career as a genealogist, first for her own family and then for thousands of other people. Along with four cousins, she will help still others begin their own searches at the 24th annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival in Annapolis next Saturday.

The event, a day of Afrocentric music, dance, poetry, crafts and food, offers visitors of all races, but particularly African Americans, a chance to reconnect with their own family and cultural heritages.

Marshall's group cuts to the heart of that mission, says Ruby Singleton Blakeney, chairwoman of the festival board.

"Last year was Lyndra's first [as an exhibitor], and she was mobbed all day," Blakeney says."People have a passion for finding out where they came from. It's incredible what a gift she has for it."

By one count, 5,000 of last year's 7,000 attendees stopped by to visit Marshall and her cousins at the festival, which was first conceived as a way of marking the arrival of the Gambian-born slave Kunta Kinte on the docks of Annapolis in September 1767.

Kinte was a forebear of Alex Haley, the author who retraced his own family history by telling the slave's story in the international bestseller "Roots."

The level of interest in her work thrilled Marshall, a woman who has spent her life teaching others how liberating it is to find out exactly where you came from.

"So much time and history has been lost since slavery," she says. "We need to learn that history now. If we don't, it could be lost to us forever."

Family trees

On a recent afternoon, on the screened-in porch of a townhome in Glen Burnie, five women traded hugs, then gathered around an elegantly designed poster display.

On the left-hand side, the name James Duvall surmounts the sprawling image of a family tree. On the right, the name Alexander Pratt sits atop another.

Generations ago, the two Maryland men — one white, another black — had children, who had children, and so on, and their separate clans expanded.

"Over time, the two families blended and interwove," says Marshall, gesturing toward the hundreds of names on the posterboard the group has been tending for years.

A decade ago, Alfreda Brown Crowner, 70, and Roberta Crown Hawkins, 60, of Annapolis; Connie Maynard, 63, who owns the home; Tammi (Peaches) Carroll-Hall of Lothian, 48, and Marshall knew one another only as women who'd grown up in the same area of southern Anne Arundel County.