UNL profs digitize slave filings

Slave owner John Little wrote in June 1862 that his young slave Lucy "is perfectly sound and healthy, good tempered, honest, willing and industrious, a good house servant and her children are very promising." He described her as "a bright mulatto tall and good looking." Her fellow slave John, Little wrote, "is sound, strong, & healthy a first rate farm hand" with "no moral mental or bodily defect or infirmity." The two, he estimated, were worth a total of $3,200. Little's frank descriptions are included in a petition he submitted to the U.S. Treasury for payment after his four … [Read more...]

Project helps African-Americans identify with ancestors

Ever wondered where you get some of your habits, traits or cultural practices from? For instance, what made the girl serving your $5 extra-hot latte place what appear to be “plugs” in her ear lobes? Are you sure what the true meaning of your recent tattoo is, and furthermore what made you decide where to have the design placed on your body? Have you ever thought about why you were so interested in a distinct pattern or design, or why you style your hair in a certain way? According to Rozenia Johnson, founder of the MDUBA Associates, you are practicing “adornment,” which is “enhancing the … [Read more...]

Mayor Hits Genealogy Lottery

Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, today calls New Jersey home. But in the first episode of the new PBS series, "Finding Your Roots," Mr. Booker explores his genealogy with the help of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.  Skip Gates reached out to me and said he'd like to use me as a subject matter—I felt like I'd hit the lottery! Read More … [Read more...]

Family Tree’s Startling Roots

Thirty-nine lashes “well laid” on her bare back and an extension of her indentured servitude was Elizabeth Banks’s punishment for “fornication & Bastardy with a negroe slave,” according to a stark June 20, 1683, court document from York County, Va. Through the alchemy of celebrity and genealogy, that record and others led to the recent discovery that Banks, a free white woman despite her servitude, was the paternal ninth great-grandmother of Wanda Sykes, the ribald comedian and actress. Read More … [Read more...]

Mary Walker’s Descendants Realize Their Rich Family History

Mary Walker was a former slave who escaped her owner, fled north, and came to owna Cambridge landmark. Recent celebrations at the Blacksmith House have brought generations of Walker’s descendants to the Harvard Square home. It’s the first time they visited with the knowledge that the home is part of their own family heritage. Fifteen of Walker’s descendents have come from as far away as New Jersey and Michigan, as well as right here in Massachusetts. The house is relatively new information for Clare Kenney, of Midland Park, N.J., now 85 years old. She gingerly climbs the stairs of the … [Read more...]

South Jersey history is all in the family

Sisters Marion Buck and Elizabeth Johnston are determined to make sure their family’s historic legacy is preserved. The nonagenarian members of the Still family — South Jersey’s best-known African-American dynasty — are links in a chain that began with ex-slaves Levin and Charity Still, who settled in Burlington County around 1800. “I want people to know all the great things my ancestors did,” said Buck, 94, who in January moved to Spring Hills, a new luxury assisted living facility in Cherry Hill, along with Johnston, 91. Read More … [Read more...]

African-Americans unearth family histories via new technology

Like so many others, Patricia Watts longed to find out more about her family history. For several years, she searched databases and made numerous trips to local libraries to research her family tree. It was during an exhaustive search of her mother's side of the family that she received an unexpected gift. A New York-based historical society contacted Detroit genealogist Dale Rich, looking for the Detroit family of decorated former slave John W. Jones. Searching government records, Rich discovered Watts is a descendent of Jones, who was responsible for helping to lead more than 850 … [Read more...]

Blair Underwood’s journey to his family roots

Actor Blair Underwood will take a journey to the past when he traces his family roots as part of TV show. The former Petersburg resident is starring on the next episode of the genealogy documentary series "Who Do You Think You Are?" - which airs Friday night on NBC. On his Facebook page, Underwood recently wrote how much he had learned from being on the show. "I discovered some amazing things about myself and family that I've never imagined," he wrote. Last September, the film and TV star - whose last major role was as president of the United States in the NBC sci-fi series "The Event" - … [Read more...]

Initiative aims to find lost grave sites of slaves

For decades, the stretch of grassy land in an elbow of the Mississippi River held no trace of the people buried underneath. No signs, markers or tombstones pointed to the more than 300 African-American former slaves buried in two cemeteries about 20 miles west of New Orleans. Only a handful of people knew they ever existed, despite their being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land, and local historians are reaching out to descendants of the deceased and planning a memorial at the grave sites commemorating the lives and … [Read more...]

Long-lost identities of slaves uncovered in old Virginia papers

A historical society in Virginia, where slavery began in the American colonies in 1619, has discovered the identities of 3,200 slaves from unpublished private documents, providing new information for today's descendants in a first-of-its-kind online database, society officials say. Many of the slaves had been forgotten to the world until the Virginia Historical Society received a $100,000 grant to pore over some of its 8 million unpublished manuscripts -- letters, diaries, ledgers, books and farm documents from Virginians dating to the 1600s -- and began discovering the long-lost identities … [Read more...]