Thursday, May 4, 2017


I recently had a conversation with my cousin, the son of my mother's brother, and he told me that his dad had researched the genealogy of that branch of our family. His dad died a couple of years ago and my cousin came into possession of all those documents that my uncle had researched. Now my cousin has been sending me a few pages every day. I am thrilled with this, and not just because I won't have to do all the hard work. What my uncle found were records going back into the 1700's, to Birmingham, England. I have tried to do this before, but I always got lost in the morass of documents, names, and blind alleys of information. There is a Mormon web site that is free, where you can look some of this stuff up, but I never got beyond the first few layers of grandparents. The best part about all this, is printing all the documents out and bringing them to my mom. She is ninety five years old and for years I've heard her lament about a trunk in the attic of my grandparents house in Chicago. It seems my grandmother threw it, and all the papers in it, into the trash. So most of this family history is new to Mom. she sits there with a magnifying glass inspecting each and every document, and is still at it as I say goodbye until next week.

The first batch of papers from my cousin were sent two weeks ago. In my excitement I laid everything out for Mark and showed him the history of my family. He did not seem very interested, which I surmised when he said it was boring. That's when I realized how awkward the situation was. Not for Mark, but for me. Like most Americans whose ancestors are from Africa, Mark cannot trace his heritage past slavery. There is no village in Africa with records of his great, great, great, great grandparents. And if there is, there is no way to find it. Only a ship's manifest showing how many human beings could be laid end to end, in the hold of that ship. The best a Black American can hope for is tracing the family line back to a particular plantation and hope that they kept good records of their property, good records of the humans that they bought and sold like cattle.

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