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!

To DNA or not to DNA – That's My Question.

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While everyone else in the Mid-Atlantic states braces for the 20 inches of snow we’re supposed to get stocking up on rock salt and bottled water,  I’m hunkering down with some hot cocoa and a notepad in anticpation of PBS’s FACES OF AMERICA.

The latest installment in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s successful genealogy series begins tomorrow.

According to its Facebook Fan Page, 12 celebrities submitted to DNA tests for the show: “Building on the success of African American Lives, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. turns to the latest tools of genealogy and genetics to explore their family histories.”

I’ll be paying special attention to how DNA tests helped them do anything more than discern what part of the world they hailed from.  Maybe this will help me decide if I should take one too.

My sister and I have toyed with the idea of taking DNA tests for the past several years. I’d love to know what part of Africa our black ancestors came from.  I don’t know what keeps my sister from taking the plunge, but for myself, I think I’m a little afraid of what I might (or might not) find.  After seeing the actor, Chris Tucker’s amazing discoveries in African American Lives that revealed his royal African ancestry, I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed if a DNA test doesn’t prove my rumored  Scottish royal blood or fails to pinpoint an exact location of my African ancestry.

Maybe I’ll just leave it to chance.

I’ve already signed up for the root.com’s contest to win a free DNA tool kit.  Some lucky winner will have it delivered by genealogy guru Henry Louis Gates, Jr. himself.  If Gates shows up at my door, I’ll have my answer.

Would you submit to a DNA test and why?

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