Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding Your Roots: We Come From People (S2E6)

Ugh. Mid-term. It's that time of semester when my whole life becomes about homework. This semester it really isn't that bad. The course I am taking is really well designed and not as overwhelming as last semester BUT, I still don't have time to watch all that much TV and I certainly don't have time to write about it. I am very behind on reviewing this episode which initially aired on October 28, 2014

Episode 6: We Come From People featuring musician NAS, actor Angela Bassett, and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

This episode traces the very prominent African-American guests’ ancestry into the institution of slavery in the U.S. Like most African-Americans, the guest knew very little about their ancestors of the 1800s. Tracing an African-American family back into slavery is often impossible so these guests' finds are pretty incredible. 

NAS, is a hip-hop artist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY but his roots are very southern. The researchers discovered that on his mother's line there were generations who married individuals with the same last name.

I don't want any comments about southern inbreeding, this happened among my very northern ancestors too. In small communities there aren't a lot of mates to choose from. In NAS's case, though, he has five generations of Littles marrying Littles from the same community.

One census record showed his black grandmother, Fannie Little-Little, living right next door to a white Fannie Little. As it turns out, the black Littles derived their last name from the white slave owners. Not all that unusual really; however, it does mean that not all those black Littles were biologically related. They had lost their names in slavery and took their slave owners name as their own last name. That is the irony of African-American genealogy; that we have to use the records and names of the white owners to learn about slave ancestors

Angela Bassett fully expected to find slaves in her lineage but expressed that it was overwhelming to imagine what it must have been to go through what they experienced.

Again, her ancestors white neighbor's name helped to unlock the family history. The neighbor, Elizabeth Ingram, was the daughter-in-law of the man who owned Angela's great-great grandparents. Their child, her great grandfather, was separated from his parents by sale to the white Bassett family. The researchers brought her face to face with the white slave-owning Bassetts. Quite a breathtaking moment. 

Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser to President Barack Obama, has a history of high achieving African-Americans. Her great grandfather, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first black person to graduate from MIT and was the first professionally trained black American architect. Another of her ancestors was Victor Rochon, a pre-Civil War free man of color was also an elected state representative in Louisianan who railed against the notion of separate but was interesting to see how she had lines of both free and enslaved African-Americans.

These lineages showed that finding the records of a slave ancestor can be bittersweet but the relationships between white slave owners and black slaves is often much more complex than one would expect. The episode underscored the fact that it is difficult if not impossible to extricate whites from the research of African-American genealogy.

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