For as long as I can remember I have always been interested in knowing where my ancestry began. It started with writing my family tree (as I knew it) on a piece of notebook paper--first, middle and last-- first, middle and last -- until everyone was accounted for. It always made me feel good to know that I knew my people but at a certain point (the age of 12) I realized that there had to be more. My family tree always began with my grandmother and ended with the youngest child born.
To go back further I would have to rely on the sources available to me. Off to grandma I went. She was rather forthcoming but only to a certain point. I began by asking her mother's name then her father's name which she answered but when I asked for their parent's names she turned and faced me and asked me why did I want to know that. I proceeded to tell her that I had been writing our family tree over and over again for years and it always began with her and I wanted to go back further. My grandmother politely and lovingly shut me down and told me that all I had was all I needed to know. Confused by her response I probed further by asking, but why? She just repeated that that was all I needed to know.
Being the ever inquisitive child I continued on and went to other relatives trying to find the answers to my questions, all the while I'm thinking that there was some sort of mystery to be solved and I was all about that. During my queries with other older relatives I was able to find out my maternal great great grandfather's name but then that was it-- nothing else for another 15 years-- no one was talking!
After family members started dying more relatives started asking questions and finally those that knew started talking. Suffice it to say my grandmother was not one of them and it still puzzled me as to why she wouldn't want to participate in our history being passed on to each generation. I would later discover that it had more to do with her not wanting to mentally connect to a part of most Black Americans past-- Slavery.
In college I was able to study Black history in depth going beyond the basic Black history month sanitized version that was sometimes taught. Needless to say, the truth about Black American's history in this country was extremely disturbing. Our present isn't going to be any better if we don't wake the hell up!
I have been able to trace my maternal history back five generations but there are holes in that history, as there is with most Black Americans. Because we were considered and listed as property on the United State Census prior to 1870, we have to try and find slave owners' records that might list our ancestor as an individual and not a number. I don't need to tell those who have started this process the degree of difficulty in finding this information.
The research continues (between bouts of anger)...