Free African American Families - Our Heritage and Our Struggle



When I first started looking into my family history, I never thought I would feel so many emotions. I knew I would find Slaves and I never thought I would find so many of my Ancestors on multiple lines as FREE and living in Virginia all the way back to 1750. My maternal grandmother was born in 1892 and she was the only grandparent I ever knew. My maternal grandfather passed away 7 years before I was born, my paternal grandparents passed prior to the 1940's. My dad was the last of 14 children born in East Tennessee. My mom, born in Los Angeles California in 1923. She talked a lot about her dad to make me feel close to him and know him.


In 2002, I decided to look into my family history. Both my parents passed and only a couple of husbands of my aunts living, I went on the journey to find out about our past. Back then, we only had use of Ancestry and no DNA, But I went on the mission to find out what I could. By 2005ish I found the Census on my grandmother and was so excited to find out about my maternal great grandmother, her name was misspelled, and my granny had told me it was Penny just like the coin in her hand. My granny was 8 years old, and she had 1 sister in the home and 2 brothers. Penny said she had 7 and only 5 were living,


When my dad passed in 2 days before38th birthday I realized I really didn't know as much as I thought about my father. Calling 1st Cousins and a half-sister who really didn't know me to tell them of his passing was difficult. Not only did we share the grief of loss, but we shared the loss of not really knowing each other. Therefore, we could not grieve together. My mom had always told me we should look to our Ancestors or the answers. To me, this meant to take the long road and find out who we were and why I was actually here. I believe each of us has a reason to be here and its pre-ordained.


The Search Begins

They say as African Americans we should start our search in the 1940's and go backwards as far as we can. Then others say we can't start where we first remember and move either way that is comfortable. I paid my monthly fee to Ancestry and to My Heritage. Then one of my wonderful Mormon friends told me about Family Search and the extensive libraries they had online and across the country. I started in with the turn of the Century 1900. I found my maternal and paternal grandparents all listed and where they should be. I also noted that my paternal grandmother's maiden name was "Swafford". As I reviewed others on the page, I found that the Swafford's (Mariah and Henry) lived directly next door. I made a note of the neighbors within 20 homes in both directions. Now I was on to find the previous Census reports. This is when I found out that there would be a 10-year gap due to a fire which destroyed most of the 1890 Census information. It was the most extensive Census report ever created. It had a 10-page questionnaire. I wondered if I would be able to find my grandmother as I didn't know who her parents were as yet. On the 1880 Census I found Annie (Lydia Anne) the ONLY Black child with Selah Roberson a few doors down from Mariah and Henry Swafford. I decided to investigate more. Selah was living right next door to them in 1900. How much of coincidence was this?


Ancestry DNA Results

Well, I sent off my DNA and got my results in less than the 6 weeks stated for delivery. As I opened them, I was sure at least one close family member had taken DNA. I was surprised to find that my paternal 1st cousin, her daughter and granddaughter took the test. I then found my 1st cousin Bill Hughes whom I had never met had a grandson who took the test. So, I had help for the paternal side and a way to sort my tree effectively. None of my living 1st cousins would take the test for me and my own nieces turned me down as well as my only living siblings. I asked my 1st Cousin's daughter and she and her sister both took DNA. Now I was ready for the story to begin. I knew I could still use more DNA to help but this was a very good start.


I found out my Ancestry DNA and found that I was 97% African from 6 regions. I had 2% Scottish and 1% Irish blood. So, this let me know that my 3rd or 4th Great Grandparent one of them was Scottish and one possible of Irish Blood,


Extended Family - 2nd and 3rd Cousins

It is funny how we think we know our family. Let me tell you; we know NOTHING! Your 2nd Cousins are your mom or dad's 1st Cousins. You share a great-grandparent in common. Then you have your 3rd cousins, I call them grandparent's 1st cousins. You share a 2nd Great Grandparent in common. Etc. What puzzled me what Ancestry said I had over 10,000 4th Cousins who took DNA and matched me. What I found, many were Half 2nd Cousins 1x or 2x Removed. My Great grandparent would be their 2nd or 3rd Great grandparent. This was because my grandfather was born Abt. 1859 and My grandmother Abt. 1875 or earlier. My dad was her last child and it puzzled me as to how she could have had him and his last 2 brothers so late in life? She was like my mom almost 40 when he was born if we believe her age is accurate.


Next Blog I will start telling their individual stories, some tragic and some very heartwarming. Stay Tuned.


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