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!

Black Scholar Of The Civil War Asks: Who’s With Me? – WNYC

Black Scholar Of The Civil War Asks: Who’s With Me? – WNYC.

I’m with Atlantic Monthly writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who describes himself as a Civil War obsessive. You can hear for yourself what he has to say about the importance of Civil War history to all of us. Since I discovered that my great, great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy while leaving at home an invalid wife, and an infant child with his slave (my great, great-grandmother Tempy), I’ve tried to learn more about this war and era, particularly what it was like for slaves at the time.

Right now, I’m reading three books that are shedding more light on that era: Adam Goodheart’s, “1861,” Charles Dufour’s “The Night the War Was Lost,” and James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.’s “An Absolute Massacre.”

What I’ve learned so far outside of the everyday Civil War wisdom is that as a slave in New Orleans, my great, great-grandmother Tempy would have had a very different experience than rural slaves or even those in other cities.  According to Hollandsworth’s book, “New Orleans contained the largest, wealthiest and best educated community of free blacks in the country.” What must it have been like to be enslaved while people who looked like her were free?  I’m also learning about the battle for the port of New Orleans that my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart fought in which Charles Dufour assigns as the defining moment for the confederacy.  He says it’s the battle that lost them the war.

In my great, great-grandfather’s obituary, it mentions that he was elected as a member to the Constitutional Convention of New Orleans. I hope to learn more about this convention and discover which one he was elected to since there were several.

As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, what have you been learning about your ancestors and their place in this history?

Follow Friday – 2 Genealogy Blogs, The Boddie Family, and Great, Great-Grandmother Tempe's Name

This week, I’ve been following people, places and things:  two blogs, a North Carolina family, and derivations of my great, great-grandmother Tempe’s name. It’s all in pursuit of my next genealogy goal, to find Tempe Burton’s's birthplace and her parents.

On Monday, I shared here that in researching Judith Boddie Jones, a woman who once owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempe, I discovered, Judith’s sister  was named Temperance.  Too much of a coincidence for me to pass up, I’ve been hunting down the Boddies of Nash County, North Carolina ever since in hopes of finding out more about my ancestor.

So far, here’s what I’ve found and where I found it:

  • Temperance Boddie was also called Tempe.    I’ve always wondered where the spelling “Tempe” and name came from as my great, great-grandmother is named on her gravestone and several census documents.  It always struck me as a misprint (shouldn’t it be Tempy with a “y?”), or perhaps short for something else.  Could it be that Tempe was named for a member of the family that owned her?  Temperance Boddie’s sister, Judith Boddie Jones was one of my great, great-grandmother’s last owners.  I found this information about Temperance “Tempe” Boddie in a google book.
  • Boddie Family Bible This bible is filled with births and deaths for the Boddie clan spanning about a century.  It didn’t mention Temperance, Judith or any slaves that I could see, but it gave me hope that more useful records about this family exist.  I found this bible on Renate’s blog,  Into the Light. I’ve enjoyed Renate’s posts since joining this community ranging from personal history to genealogy resources,  but after she replied to my Monday blog that she had come across the Boddie name often in  her North Carolina research, I decided to give her site a closer look.   Listed as a resource on Renate’s site is the North Carolina Family Records online.  That’s where I found the Boddie family bible.
  • John William Boddie died in Jackson, Mississippi. That’s where Tempe lived as a slave to her final owner, Elizabeth McCauley, Judith Boddie Jones’ granddaughter. Could John be related to Judith B. Jones as well?  I found Boddie’s obituary while perusing Taneya’s Genealogy blog. A medical librarian, Taneya’s penchant for gathering research materials is evident all over her blog and impressive website which boasts a thorough family tree.  Taneya also coordinates several USGen Web projects including the North Carolina portal.  It was there that I found Boddie’s obituary as well as election results that showed a W.W. Boddie was elected to the Senate in 1826. Incidentally,  my third great-grandfather, William Stuart Sr. (Elizabeth’s father-in-law) was also in the Senate during that time, but in Maryland. This big genealogy world is growing smaller every day with every century retraced.

Thanks Taneya and Renate for all the great resources you share along with  your family’s stories.  They’ve inspired me to create a resource list of my own. But first a break to celebrate my b’day and Mother’s Day with my families.   I’d  love suggestions on where to look (and who to follow) on the next leg of this adventure.  Who and what are you following?

Happy Mother’s Day!

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