CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Inside the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia, there's a new exhibition. This collection comes from more than 600 portraits of African American citizens of Charlottesville, Albemarle, and Nelson Counties, taken during the height of the Jim Crow era.

Of the African American people featured in the Holsinger portraits, History Professor John Edwin Mason at the University of Virginia said many moved away to seek opportunity and a better life.

"In many cases, they left central Virginia, this was part of the great migration of African Americans from the south to cities to the cities of the north and the cities of the north,” Mason said. "They went looking for opportunity, and in some cases, they actually found it, in some cases they found the American dream."

In other cases, they stayed in central Virginia.

"One of the most fun parts of the project has been meeting the descendants of people in the portraits,” said Mason, who also serves as Co-Director of the Holsinger Portrait Project.

One of those descendants is DeTeasa Brown Gathers. Through the Holsinger Portrait Project, she learned more about her own family history.

"One of the genealogists asked me if I knew Eileen Buckner. and I said no I don't recall Eileen Buckner and as she started looking a little deeper, she said well, there's a marriage certificate for her and my grandfather Tommy Rhodes, come to find out Tommy Rhodes and Eileen Buckner were married for a brief period of time and my family we just never knew,” Brown Gathers said.

Brown Gathers is not the only Charlottesville native to have an ancestor's portrait in the exhibit.

Edwina St. Rose's great uncle, Charles Brown, and grandfather, William L. Brown, were barbers at the University of Virginia in a shop that now houses The White Spot on the University Corner.

"I'm always excited to see that photo being displayed because I like to make sure that that history is being told," St. Rose said.

Brown Gathers, who is also the co-chair of the Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA, says it’s important to connect people to their lineage.

"It puts life to the pictures, it lets you see that we actually exist past these images, descendants exist, and we want to make sure we make the connections and help people understand more of who they are through this collection, and let them understand that that collection is just real, that's all I can say it’s just real, its real people,” Brown Gathers said.

Brown Gathers said she was floored by the display.

"It’s a place of honor, I felt that the ancestors were honored in that space,” she said.

But Brown Gathers is looking forward to bringing the collection into the community, like in churches, and senior centers, to see if anyone else can be identified, and there are plans for that.

"We have a plan for the portraits, and that plan involves taking the portraits, permanently, out of UVA and into the community but I can't tell you more than that right now," Mason said.

Allowing people to connect with their ancestors in the same way Brown Gathers and St. Rose have.

"This collection is not just about my connection and what I could find, what I hope when people see that yes my family I can see them in these images and I can see these pieces, I want me to be plural," Brown Gathers said. "Others in the community that relate to this project, or that don't even know that they're related to this project because they just haven't started the research, so that me is very plural, and its more about making sure you get there as well, it’s not about me."

"I'm the only Brown family member living in Charlottesville at this present time, when I leave there’s really no one here to tell the story so I'm hoping I can get it in writing so it’s not lost," St. Rose said.

Stories which will now forever be a part of the archives at the University of Virginia.

If you see someone you recognize in any of these portraits, reach out to the Holsinger Portrait Project at [email protected]. The project is looking for descendants and neighbors of each community member imaged.