I haven’t gotten into the DNA side of my genealogy yet but it is a way to discover more detail about my African American family history that’s often hard to document, my European roots and maybe even the Native American ancestors Great Aunt Clara said we have.
As I get closer to the ordering that little kit that’s supposed to map out my genetic DNA, I wanted a little more info. So researcher that I am, I started poking around and found a great series of videos that explains a complicated scientific principle in a user-friendly (and kind of cute way). Here they are for you to watch at your leisure.
If you liked this first videos, here are the links to the rest in the series:
Genetics 101, Part 2 – What are SNPs?
Genetics 101, Part 3 – Where do your genes come from?
Genetics 101, Part 4 – What is phenotype?
Are you planning to add genetic DNA testing to your genealogy toolkit?
One of the problems I’ve had over the years is that it is sometimes impossible to uncover details about my female ancestors. This isn’t just a problem in doing African American family history. It comes with the territory when you do genealogy. So I was really excited when I discovered that I can identify my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s and, well – you get the drift.
What this means is that on my mother’s line, I’ve found my women ancestors 10 generations back. In their honor, I’ve listed them here so they will never ever be lost in time.
You’ll notice that I introduce my female ancestors by their maiden names and that’s a tip for you. Always identify women in your family tree by their maiden, not married names. If you don’t have that maiden name for a particular ancestor, put her first name and then “unknown” for the last name. You can always add the maiden name later .
Now, meet the strong women who made it possible for me to be here:
- I am the daughter of Alice Vivian Dickinson who was born on June 18, 1919 in New York, NY. She married my father, Thomas Melvin Batchelor in 1945. Mom was the 2nd generation of women in our family who went to college (my sister and I are the 3rd). Mom earned her BA in Spanish Literature at Howard University and later received her Master’s degree. Mom is still living and is 92 years old – God Bless.
- Mom is the daughter of Hazel Edna Weaver who was born in Cleveland, Ohio on January 8, 1891. Grandmother was a pioneer in our family – the first woman who went to college. She graduated from Howard University in 1917 with a Bachelor of Science in Math. She married my grandfather, Frederick William James Dickinson who was originally from Bermuda.
- Grandmother was the daughter of Jennie Daisy Hood who was born in Waterford, PA on March 12, 1867. She married Prince Albert Weaver in Cleveland in 1880. They were an interracial couple and her father never spoke to her again because of that.
- My great grandmother Jennie was the daughter of Clarissa A. Scribner who was born on September 27, 1837 in Ballston Spa, NY. Her husband was Andrew Coover Hood whose grandfather and great grandfather served in the American Revolution.
- My great great grandmother Clarissa was the daughter of Luransey (or Luransa) Frazier who was born February 27, 1796 in Leyden, MA. Luransey was the wife of Alexander Scribner of Ballston Spa, NY. Alexander’s father and grandfather were also Revolutionary War soldiers.
- My 3rd great grandmother Luransey was the daughter of Sally Page who was born in 1768 in Bernardson, MA. Sally was the wife of Michael Frazier of Franklin County, MA. Michael’s family name was originally Frizzell (or one of the 9 variations of spelling I found), but he changed the name back to the original Scottish spelling. Michael’s father was a Revolutionary War veteran.
- My 4th great grandmother Sally Page was the daughter of Sally (aka Sarah) Cunnabell who was born about 1753 in Boston, MA. The name Sally was sometimes used as a nickname for Sarah. Sally Cunnabell became the wife of David Page, also of Boston.
- My 5th great grandmother, Sally Cunnabell was the daughter of Sarah Crafts who was born on June 17, 1729 in Boston, MA. Sarah married John Cunnabell and they left the comfort of Boston to become early settlers in Western Massachusetts.
- My 6th great grandmother, Sarah Crafts was the daughter of Anne White who was born on January 24, 1711 in Boston, MA. Anne was the wife of Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Crafts and mother of their son, also Thomas Crafts, who was one of the original Sons of Liberty and a member of the real Tea Party.
- My 7th great grandmother, Anne White was the daughter of Sarah Wilson who was born in 1688. I don’t know where Sarah Wilson was born but she married my 7th great grandfather, Edward White in 1709. Obviously I’ve got some more research to do to figure out where she came from originally. With a little luck and a lot of patience, maybe I can actually discover who this particular Sarah’s mother was and add another generation of strong women to my family tree.
Who are the strong women in your family history?
Everyone needs a mentor. I’ve been blessed to have several amazing ones including the late James Dent Walker from the National Archives.
I was introduced to “Jimmy”, as he was known to friends, in 1977 when I wasn’t having any luck with my application to DAR – the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution. No local chapter in my neck of the woods would invite me to become a member even though I had documented my eligibility. That may sound strange these days but that was back where there weren’t any African American members in DAR.
So many times, Jimmy and his wonderful wife, Barbara opened up their home in Washington, D.C. to me when I came in town to do research. That little bedroom on their third floor became my official home away from home. By day, I’d hop the 16th Street bus and ride down to the National Archives for hours of family research where Jimmy would check on me from time to time.
Then loaded down a whole new batch of notes, I’d take the bus back for an evening with my hosts – always a combo of great food, great company, research tips and stories of days gone by from both Barbara and Jimmy. More than a few times over the years, I’ve paused to remember how generous they were with their hospitality, time and wisdom.
I quickly learned that Jimmy was the genealogist’s genealogist. Over the years, many a researcher at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. was the beneficiary of Jimmy’s absolute mind-blowing knowledge of where to find that exact piece of information that would finally connect a weary researcher with their ancestor.
But Black family genealogy was his passion and his efforts created a strong support network for people, like me, doing African American family history. In fact, Jimmy helped author Alex Haley document his family history which was later immortalized in the bestseller, Roots.
During his 30 year career at the National Archives, Jimmy became a noted expert on pension and military records. After he retired as director of local history and genealogical programs, Jimmy was hired by DAR to help document the service of more than 5000 African Americans who fought in or gave civil service during the American Revolution.
In 1977, I received an invitation to join the Daughters of the American Revolution from the Ezra Parker Chapter DAR in Royal Oak near my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Later that year, I became a member. Jimmy never said so, but I know he had a hand in encouraging DAR to welcome me as their first African American member. And even though he’s gone now, the wisdom I got from the genealogist’s genealogist is always part of my family history toolkit.
Tonight on the season premiere of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Grammy award-winning singer Lionel Ritchie searches his African American family history. If you’re into genealogy like I am, you don’t want to miss this program at 9pm EST. Here’s a preview:
Have you started tracing your family history yet?
My father, Thomas Melvin Batchelor was born on February 16, 1920 in Hamtramck, Michigan – a small city next to Detroit. He was two months premature and had head full of white hair that would soon turn into the flaming red hair he was know for in his youth along with a million freckles.
According to my grandmother, the doctor who delivered my dad said, “If he makes it through the night, he’s got a chance”. Fighter that he was, Dad not only made it through that night, but went on to survive a childhood of poverty during the Great Depression.
Even though he grew up without material things, Dad always remembered the best from those days. He used to tell us stories about those days and even laugh about wearing “welfare” plaid flannel shirts and having to eat chicken toes. I’ve always wondered if he was just pulling my leg about that.
When Dad was about 12, he injured his leg in a fall on the ice. Not having money for a doctor, Grandma took my father to a faith healer. He ended up with a bone infection that landed him in a convalescent home for a year. Remember, this was before penicillin or any other antibiotics. The treatment was grueling and Dad had to wear a built-up shoe for years after.
My father’s disability never kept him from being a straight “A” student and graduating from high school with honors. Many years later, I recall Dad’s extreme interest in every report card I brought home and his annual display of every one of his report cards from 1st-12th grade. All “A”s and one “B”!!! Truly a tough act to follow.
Dad went on to major in art at Wayne State University (WSU) with a full scholarship and according to him – 2 pairs of pants which he wore all 4 years until they were shiny and paper-thin from being ironed so much.
During the time he was in undergrad, my grandmother was the “help” for the dean of WSU’s med school. One day the dean asked Gram if my dad would consider becoming a doctor because it was a better career path for a “colored boy” instead of art.
Dad apparently thought so too and applied to medical school. He had to wait a year to get in because back then, the Wayne State University med school only took two African American and two Jewish students in a class. While he waited, Dad got his masters in pathology. Once he was admitted to med school, his life was full steam ahead. During that time though, racial tensions were heating up in Detroit.
One summer night in 1943, Dad was on a date on Belle Isle. Belle Isle is a small island and public park in the middle of the river between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. There are a myriad of stories about how the riots started – depending on who you heard it from. All involved a young Black child and the Belle Isle bridge – where my father was walking with his date.
Dad ended up being right in the middle of what became a violent race riot and his leg was injured again. I was an adult before he would ever share any details of that night with me. Even then he wouldn’t talk much about the horrors he saw that night as one of the first victims of the Detroit’s 1943 race riots.
Despite yet another injury, Dad went on to excel in medical school. And he met and fell in love with Alice Vivian Dickinson, a smart and beautiful young woman from Cleveland, Ohio – my mom. While my father finished med school, Mom taught school. They had great plans that were soon derailed by an unexpected roadblock.
Dad developed another infection in his leg and the doctors recommended yet another year in a convalescent home. Here he was in his last year of school with a coveted internship waiting, a new wife – and someone was telling him to sit on the sidelines. Dad said “no way” and told the doctors to amputate his leg at the knee. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my father achieving his goals – not even his own leg!
Dad sped through recovery and graduated with honors in the top 10% of his class – or so he thought. It wasn’t until he retired from the practice of medicine 54 years later, that my father learned he had graduated first in his class – an honor we believe was denied him because of his race. But that was the special thing about my father. He never let anything get in the way – race, illness, adversity and especially not lack of confidence.
The 83 years of my father’s life weren’t easy. But he lived a life filled with amazing goals and achievements, laughter and inspiration that never seems to end even though Dad passed away on October 24, 2002.
My father left a legacy of wonderful memories, family history and lessons, the most important one – that anything is possible. His faith in possibilities was passed down to me and continues to be the beacon that lights my way through life and the ups and downs of doing Black genealogy.
Love you, Dad. Always, always.