Hi Meltingpot Readers,
Not too long ago my older son came home from school and asked, "Mommy, when grandpa was little was he a slave?" My first quick response was, "No, slavery was over long before grandpa was born." But of course his follow-up question was, "What about his father?" And I could still say, no, but I knew one more generation back and I'd have nothing to share. Not since I was a child in the third grade have I felt so inadequate because I couldn't answer the seemingly simple question, "Where do I come from?"
I think it's a primal human need to know where we come from. In this country especially, this nation of immigrants, it is expected that one can point to a country where our ancestors got their start. Pilgrims from England, Italian immigrants, Irish farmers, oh, right and slaves. As a journalist and writer who spends a lot of time researching African-American culture and history, I am very much aware of the diversity of the Black experience in this country. From the first Africans who sailed with Spanish explorers and settled in St. Augustine, Florida to the Africans first brought to Virginia as indentured servants, our history cannot be summed up with chains, cotton and Martin Luther King, Jr. But still, I don't know my unique story. I don't know how I got here. So thanks to the innocent question of my son, I've started the journey.
And it's so exciting.
First I interviewed my 92-year old paternal grandmother and she gave me the names of my relatives two generations back. Then I copied some research my own father had started a few years ago on a trip to his birthplace in North Carolina. Last night I actually sat down and wrote out my first version of an official family tree and made it as far back as my great, great grandparents on my paternal side. Then after some awesome internet sleuthing that lasted way into the night, I found the marriage certificate of my paternal great, great, great grandparents. I know where they were married, who officiated and that the ceremony happened at home. It was an amazing discovery. Of course I shared the news with my kids this morning and they're just as excited as I am to hear these tidbits of their history.
I also found one of my "original" ancestors on my paternal side. He was a White Englishman who left the United Kingdom as an indentured servant but died in North Carolina a pretty wealthy landowner. I'm now trying to find out when his offspring crossed the color line.
To a certain extent I feel like I'm jumping on the genealogy bandwagon. What with every Skip Gates PBS special and that new NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are?, finding your roots is pretty trendy. But thanks to the hip factor, there are a lot of resources now available that weren't around just a few years ago. So, call me a copycat. I don't care. I'm just thrilled that soon enough I'll really be able to tell my kids and myself the true history of how we all got here.
Has anybody else traced their family tree? Did you discover anything exciting? Unexpected? Feel like sharing tips or resources?
I'm totally listening!
By the way, speaking of families, I received an email from a producer from A&E. They're casting for a new reality television show about family relationships and they're specifically looking for a multicultural family where folks are having issues dealing with their in-laws. I've checked this out and it is legitimate. There is money involved and it's a three-day commitment if your family is chosen. Please check out my whatrugear.com blog for details.