Every Sunday, my family and I gather around the television to watch our favorite show — Who Do You Think You Are. If you don’t know, Who Do You Think You Are is a TLC show that features celebrities and their family’s ‘story’ using the power of Ancestry.com. Each episode features a different celebrity, looking through their family tree and discovering the lives of their ancestors. It’s amazing how looking through years of birth records, marriage licenses, death certificates, etc., can allow you to trace back a family tree hundreds and hundreds of years.
Watching the latest episode with J.K Rowland inspired me to put Ancestry.com to the test, hopefully being able to trace my own family back hundreds and hundreds of years. So I signed up for the 14-Day Free Trial and began my journey of tracing my roots.
I started by looking on my mom’s side of the family, specifically my maternal grandfather. My Grandfather, ‘PopPop’, died a year before I was born, so I’ve always had a desire to know him. I feel like I’ve missed out on a great relationship with him, and I’ll be honest and say that I am jealous that my cousins were able to experience something I didn’t. Hopefully, my search on Ancestry.com will give me a small glimpse into his life, to where it almost feels like I knew him personally.
From my research so far, I learned that my family (at least on my mom’s side), is very interesting…I can clearly see where my mom gets her strength (and her sass). My Grandfather’s name was John, and he was born in the year 1923 in Hartford, Alabama. On October 7th, 1942 he joined the military, serving in Camp Blanding, Florida. Besides from what I already knew — marrying my grandmother and having three beautiful children — there isn’t much else that I was able to find specifically about his life. However, I was able to trace his heritage back several generations.
For instance, there is dear Ms. Nervy, who is my Grandfather’s Maternal Grandmother (my 2nd Great-Grandmother). She was an interesting character. Nervy was born around 1875 in Mississippi, just 10 years after the end of slavery in the United States. Nervy married Billy in 1889 at the age of 14, and birthed Nellie (my Great-Grandmother) six years later. This is where it gets interesting. Ancestry.com provides a newspaper clipping from the year 1892, in which Nervy is featured: she was arrested and fined for beating her husband! According to the article, while arguing with Billy, Nervy kicked over their cooking stove, causing it to fall over and hit Billy on the head. She was fined $5.75 for kicking the stove. Crazy right!? I now understand where my mom get’s her ‘strong spirit’, and after reading the article, I literally filled up with pride. I come from strong women!
While learning of Nervy was truly amazing, I discovered something else that truly threw me for a loop. I was able to trace my family tree back to my 4th Great-Grandfather — Solomon A. — the child of William A. and his slave Sophie. That’s right. I traced my 4th Great-Grandfather, and my 5th Great-Grandfather who was the slave master of my family. Crazy! I was able to see where William was married, but had several children with Sophie (his slave) who is my 5th Great-Grandmother.
Unfortunately, I am unable to trace my family tree further than this. Due to slavery, there is no record of Sophie’s birth, but there is mention that she was brought to the US from Africa during the slave trade.
Although disappointed that I cannot trace this lineage of my family any further, I feel an overwhelming sense of ‘completeness’. Being born and raised in the late 20th Century, I am so far removed from slavery. Although my parents did a great job of teaching me about the civil rights era, and the hardship of slavery, there remained a disconnect between me and the history that I was taught.
Being able to look through ancestry.com, seeing the names of distant relatives, seeing their military and birth records, learning just a snippet of their lives, was truly amazing. They no longer were people that I simply imagined, but were real people who lived extraordinary lives. And although I know nothing but her name, and that she birthed the start of a great lineage, Sophie continues to resonate into my very being.
As I sit here typing this blog post (crying), I am truly humbled. Because of Sophie, and what she had to endure as a slave — kidnapped from her home, sold to a slave master who then fathered her children — I am able to celebrate my 25th birthday today, surrounded by my friends and family. Because of Sophie, I was able to attend school, becoming educated in whatever I wanted…while it was illegal for Sophie to learn how to read. I am so grateful for Sophie, and the sacrifices she made leading to my existence. Knowing as little as her name, gave me a new perspective on life, and a better appreciation for where I come from. In learning where I come from, I learned that my Grandfather was truly a great man, as he came from great men and women before him.
I am beyond excited to continue my search into my family’s history. I am now looking into my father’s side of the family, who I am certain, is just as eye opening as my mother’s. Although my dad’s family is more difficult to search, I am immensely proud to embody the strength of two families that defied the odds of adversity. And I am inspired to continue in their footprints.
Until Next Time