One thing doing genealogy teaches you is that you are NEVER exactly who you THINK you are. For over 36 years, I’ve researched my roots. On my dad’s side of the family, my journey has taken me back through slavery and slave-owners in Georgia and North Carolina. But I’ve only been able to get back to great-great grandparents and not on every line.
I’ve had far more success researching my mother’s line which has taken me back to known ancestors from Bermuda, England, Scotland and Germany. As of now, there are some lines I’ve gotten back to medieval times in England!!
For years, I’ve thought about taking a DNA test but just got around to doing that recently. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is over DNA test in family research, here’s a video that explains it better than I ever could -
To get started, I sent for a DNA test from Ancestry.com. When it arrived, I filled the little vial with my saliva (apparently a rich source of DNA) and waited about 5 weeks to get my results. Here they are (and who I am) -
54 % West African
34 % British Isles
7 % Scandinavian
5 % Uncertain
Like many BLACK people in the USA, I knew my genealogy was mixed. And I specifically knew that I had many ancestors from England and Scotland. But the Scandinavian link was a complete surprise!
Apparently the DNA test shows your lineage back hundreds, even a thousand years. None of the modern day Scandinavian countries were around then. So, according to Ancestry.com, the results show that I have Viking ancestry. Go figure.
Did a Viking really wander through my family tree??
My grandmother was an amazing lady. She was born Beatrice Parker in Fortson, Harris County, Georgia – the grandchild of both former slaves and slave-owners in the neighborhood. Gram, as I called her, grew up as a tomboy who used her trusty slingshot to supplement the family groceries with the rabbit and squirrel running around in her rural neck of the woods.
Our family didn’t have much in those days. They were sharecroppers making a meager living growing cotton on someone else’s land. Life was simple. In fact, it was an accomplishment to get any kind of education since everyone who could work needed to help bring in the crop.
But my grandmother finished the 8th grade. She was pretty proud of that but sad that she never actually got her diploma. Gram refused to attend graduation because there was no money to buy fabric for the requisite white dress like the other girls would wear. Knowing how vain she was about clothes in her later years, I imagine this was where it all started.
When Gram was 15, she thought she was going to be an “old maid” because all the eligible guys in her town were related. But never one to give up on a challenge, Gram met and married a young man from a nearby town who wasn’t a cousin – my grandfather, Eddie Walton Batchelor. Grandpa was the first of her five husbands.
Shortly after the birth of their first child, my aunt Mary, my grandparents packed up and took the train to Michigan. The reason – a flyer posted by auto magnate, Henry Ford offering a job making cars for $5 a day. That kind of money was unheard of. So despite the fact that neither of my grandparents had ever been out of Georgia, they decided to make this move.
Many years later when Gram was about to move into a senior citizen’s building, I asked her about the old trunk in her attic. She told me that her father gave her the trunk for the journey to Detroit. Gram said she didn’t have anything to put in it, but brought the thing anyway because it reminded her of home.
Here are my grandparents captured in the lens of a wandering photographer on the day they arrived at the train station in Detroit:
My grandparents settled in Hamtramck, Michigan – right next to Detroit. After my father and uncle were born, my grandparents divorced and Gram helped provide for her young family by being the “help” – working as a domestic.
During the dry days of Prohibition – according to family stories, Gram supplemented her wages by making corn liquor in a still in her attic. Seems everyone loved her moonshine. Gram told me herself it was a successful business that never got raided by what she called the “Feds”.
But then there was that snowy day when she walked home down their street and the only rooftop without snow was hers! That was the day she decided to sell her attic still that was keeping things really warm upstairs.
Obviously I wasn’t around back then to taste Gram’s moonshine but I can testify that she also made the best peach cobbler this side of the Mason-Dixon line. I’ll be writing more about Gram on Extreme Ancestry – there’s just too much to share about her in one post.
You should know though that she was this strong, resourceful and incredibly wise woman who lived to be 97 years old (and lived in her own apartment right to the end). I loved her dearly and miss her peach cobbler, hugs, advice and great stories.
Boy would she be upset if she knew I told you about the moonshine!
My great aunt Clara was my maternal grandmother’s younger sister. She was born on December 1, 1894 in Cleveland, Ohio to my great grandparents, Prince Albert and Jennie Hood Weaver. Aunt Clara and Grandmother had a brother and sadly, 3 other sisters who didn’t survive childhood.
Aunt Clara was a “pistol” – outspoken and her own person in a time when women were struggling to even have the right to vote. Depending on who is telling the story, she was married 5 times although by the time I came along, I don’t remember any of the husbands being in the picture.
I would see Aunt Clara every summer through my childhood when we took our annual trip to visit my mother’s family in Cleveland. Every day, Aunt Clara would drive over in her big black car even though she was in her seventies by then. We kids would peek through the curtains as she marched very purposefully up the front walk to hold court with her grand nieces and nephews – always with her pearls on. It was a command performance that none of us dared miss.
As I reflect back on this time, I realize I missed a lot of opportunity to ask Aunt Clara about our history. But as fate would have it, I got the chance to make up for lost time some years later when I made New Year’s resolution in 1976 to start tracing my roots.
Aunt Clara was then the oldest member of my family so I reached out to her first. She was thrilled beyond belief! Even though she didn’t actually say this, I got the distinct impression Aunt Clara was thinking:
It’s about damn time!!
Over the next 8 months, we had the most amazing time together – phone calls and letters where Aunt Clara taught me as diligently as any of the college professors I ever had. And I was like a sponge. I soaked up all the facts and family stories about our mixed race family and used it to do further genealogy research.
But in September of that year, things turned upside down. Aunt Clara had a fall. I’m not sure how it happened but I got the call that she was in the hospital with a broken hip, but doing OK. Apparently she was even flirting with the ER doctor, something that made me giggle because it was so “classic” Aunt Clara. A few days later, though, she took a turn for the worst and passed away on September 19, 1976. I was devastated.
A few months after Aunt Clara died, I made the connection to our ancestor William Hood, a patriot in the Revolutionary War. She would have be thrilled beyond belief with this discovery. Through the 35+ years since then, the original research Aunt Clara started me on in Pennsylvania has branched out into Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Maine and “across the pond” to Germany, England and Scotland. Although I can’t share my discoveries with her, I always have the feeling Aunt Clara’s looking over my shoulder – smiling in approval.
My maternal great-grandmother, Jennie Daisy Hood was born in the tiny little town of Waterford, Pennsylvania on March 12, 1867. She was the daughter of Andrew Coover Hood and Clarissa Scribner. By all rights, Jennie should have stayed a small town girl, married a young man who her parents knew and stayed in the area where her family had been since right after the American Revolution. But she didn’t.
I’ll never know what – but something drew Jennie away to Washington, D.C. where I found her in the city directory in the mid-1880′s working as a chambermaid. This probably meant that she was working in a private home doing housework and making a meager wage as the “help”. I need to do more research to see if I can find out who my great grandmother was working for in that job so far away from home.
During her time away in Washington, I believe she met her future husband and my great grandfather, Prince Albert Weaver. There’s so much I don’t know about him but I do know that he was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in D.C. So it’s likely that Jennie and Prince Albert met there. They married in Cleveland, Ohio on September 2, 1889 – an event that was not celebrated by Jennie’s family because Prince Albert was African American and Jennie was White.
In fact, from the time Jennie got married, her father never spoke to her again. Despite this she would make periodic visits to her hometown of Waterford. I wonder if she thought her father would get over the fact the she had an inter-racial marriage. But according to the oral history of our family, he ever did.
Apparently, though, Jennie continued to visit her mother and eventually take her oldest daughters along – Hazel and Clarissa. Hazel was my grandmother. Here they are as girls:
As the story goes, on one visit when my grandmother and great-aunt were in their teens, their grandmother announced that perhaps they shouldn’t come to visit again because the girls were beginning to show their “colored heritage”. According to our family history, Jennie was outraged by this slur against her children. She never visited her parents again. It’s sad to think that my great grandmother lost the relationship with her parents because of racism.
I wanted to share this interesting infographic from Archives.com showing the growth of diversity in America from 1820 to 2009, which was done in celebration of Family History Month. A lot of research went into this but I have to confess my first thought was – what about Africans brought to this country in slavery or what I view as “forced” immigration. If you’re wondering the same thing, here’s what happened.
The timeline in the Family History Month infographic below picks up right as there was a major shift in the politics on slavery. In 1820, the United States took a bold step when it made the trading of African slaves a crime of “piracy” that was punishable by death. From that point on, those engaging in the slave trade did so at the peril of their lives. As a result, the number of African slaves entering this country dropped to a fraction of what it used to be.
Even though the African slave trade was effectively shut down, the numbers of slaves in the U.S. continued to grow unchecked at a phenomenal rate between 1820 and the abolishment of slavery in 1865. It still boggles the mind at how convoluted political thought process could make trading slaves a crime but continuing the institution of slavery still legal? Sadly, it took America far too long to sort that one out.
As the great great granddaughter of both a slave and a slaveowner, the public and personal politics behind the institution of slavery are always lurking in the corner of my mind as I do Black family genealogy. If you decide to learn more about your family this October during Family History Month, spice up research about your ancestors by taking a peek at the politics in play during their times.