Motivational Monday: Tracing African Roots through a Song

Promotional picture for the 1998 documentary, "The Language You Cry In."

On Saturday, I shook off the magic dust of a week at Disney World and got back into my real life by attending the monthly meeting of my local African American Genealogy Society. Our group leader had print outs of the 1940 federal census on hand so we could all get a close up view of the details included in that 72 year-old document. Much more intricate than the ones we fill out now, the 1940 census can reveal a lot about an ancestor. She also brought along a documentary called, “The Language You Cry In.” It’s the remarkable story of how a song passed down by the women of a Gullah family in Georgia is traced back to Sierra Leone. Through a song, this American family found its roots in Africa.

I broke down in tears more than once during the viewing. Not only was it remarkable that 200 years of lost history was reclaimed through a song that a grandma sang while doing chores and playing with her offspring, but it was also inspirational. It gave me hope that I too might find where in Africa my ancestors come from.

I know I could find out by just taking a DNA test already and be done with it. And I have. But I haven’t looked at the results yet. I’m still hoping to dig up my history by what my ancestors left behind, like my grandpa’s story that got me started on this journey, my great-grandmother Josephine’s newspaper articles that make me think that writing is in my genes, and great, great-grandma Tempe’s ads looking to reunite with her family after slavery ended – another inherited trait – the need to find my people. I still have hope that some piece of paper or some story will emerge that connects me to the African country we came from.

So, I will refrain from the magic of DNA for at least another week while I follow up with a few other leads on my African ancestry. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for leads to your African ancestry, make sure you check out Sharon Morgan’s website, Our Black Ancestry which has tons of links to resources. And if your people are from Virginia, check out the Virginia Historical Society’s Unknown No Longer project which my friend LaKesha Kimbrough brought to my attention.

Happy digging!

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3 thoughts on “Motivational Monday: Tracing African Roots through a Song

  1. I heard that song and story awhile ago and it was very moving. brought tears to my eyes too. You might as well look at the dna. it won’t tell you too much and it’s straight from your ancestors too! and, hasn’t it only been 72 years?

  2. Such an amazing story about this song. And congratulations on being so close to finding your answers! I will definitely check out Sharon Morgan’s website when I get a chance. There are certain things I have been told, stories, for example, about a plantation in Louisiana, but there is nothing I have been able to find so far.

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