Saturday, October 22, 2011

Back to Your Roots

How many of you know your great-grandparent’s parent’s names? Where they actually came from? How many brothers and sisters they had? For the past few months I have been digging relentlessly through old family records, photographs, and on-line archives trying to identify and log in the names of our family tree.

I was bestowed this honor at our last family reunion, and I took it kicking and screaming. I tried to explain to one of the Queen Bees of the reunion (also known as my mother) that I didn’t have the time, there were too many people involved (I have thirty-seven first cousins!) and with every excuse, she gave me a motherly pat and a smile and said, ‘Do it for me.’

So I began. I logged onto, and after a week or so, I was so immersed in the names, the history and how far I’d been able to go back, I couldn’t put my project down.

It is still a work in progress; one that will take me at least another year. But the history is so rich, and with every person, they seem to tell a story. I wish I could go back in time and interview my ancestors. I found a treasure trove of information online, including: slave records, census records, birth and marriage certificates, newspaper clippings. I’d like to take a trip, however, to the state of Mississippi Archives and Records building, where I’ve been informed that there are land records that actually document the slave owners property, including all the land they owned, and land they bequeathed to slaves. My mother inherited two acres that had been handed down from her mother, and later I found out this same two acres was part of a massive parcel of which our ancestors had worked as slaves.

I also traced the history of the slave owners. I was able to trace as far back to the 1600's to his grandparents in Ireland.

If I could interview one individual from my ancestral line, it would be Ellen Weathersby. She was born in 1836, and she was my great-great grandmother. She had eleven children, including two sets of twins. She was born into slavery and was freed at the age of twenty-five. Can you imagine being twenty-five years old, having been enslaved and working all of your life with no pay, and to now be informed that you are free? That you will now be paid for the work you’ve had to do for probably the past twenty years?
My interview would go something like this: I would ask her if she worked in the fields, or if she worked in the house as a cook, or housekeeper. I wonder if she married her husband, Milly, before or after the Emancipation Proclamation Act? Was she in love? Or did the slave owners mate them? Did they actually jump a broom? Did she and Milly actually receive forty acres of land? Did any of her sons join the military? Did the slave owners treat them like people or were they treated as chattel? Were they allowed to read?

I believe that Ellen and Milly, living through the civil war and seeing the day where their shackles would be removed is akin to the Silent Generation living through the Great Depression, World War II, experiencing the Civil Rights Movement; witnessing President Johnson sign the Civil Rights Act; and watching President Obama being sworn in as our 44th President all rolled into one. There are other extremely significant and historical acts, of course, but after hundreds of years of slavery, and then to live to see the day it is abolished, how amazing can that be?

Think about researching and viewing the history of your family tree. It is a beautiful treasure to pass along to your children and grandchildren, and you may be surprised at what you will find. Some reference websites:,, allows you to build a family tree for free; and some websites do require a subscription. Have fun!

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