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Sunday, May 1, 2016

PRINCE...Thank You For A Funky Time!

When I first saw Prince it had to be around 1978/1979, I really don’t recall the year but I do recall the day.  My girlfriend and I had walked uptown (That’s what everyone called the business section of our rural 2 stop-light country town.) to the store and we as usual were looking through the magazines. I believe it was Right On Magazine; I’m not sure if Prince was on the cover or he was the centerfold but I think it was the centerfold. I saw this beautiful man with this huge afro, black jacket and with a streak of chest hair in the middle. I kept staring at his picture and my girlfriend peak over my shoulder to see what I was looking at and she said “Ah… he ain’t cute.” I said “YES HE IS! HE IS FINE!” We both rolled our eyes and sucked our teeth at each other but I bought that magazine! It’s funny now but by the time we made it back to her home or mine; I don’t recall which; we were back friends again. But we were only 14 and I had just falling in love.  This poster went up in my room and stayed there until I left for college.

Prince’s music was the soundtrack of my life from young teen to young adulthood. Almost every Sunday night I would be at the skating rink in Wilson, NC, and as I recall the slow skate was always “Do Me Baby!” I couldn’t skate but it was Prince and that was “my song” so I always pitifully tried to skate.  My favorite songs were “Do Me Baby,” “Let’s Work,” “1999,” “Shhh,” “Adore,” “When Doves Cry,” "Another Lonely Christmas," and “Sometimes it Snows in April”.  Lord…I was in a teenage love triangle when the “Beautiful Ones” song came out. There is something about the following lyrics that made me think Prince was “all in my head” saying what I couldn’t say: “do you want him or do you want me because I want you” but my version was “do you want her” or “do you want me because I want you.” Thanks Prince!  When he released the Purple Rain soundtrack and the movie came out, I knew I was going to have to share him with the world. But I was happy that he was getting recognized for his talent.

My First Concert
My first concert was in 1981 at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C.  Prince was the headliner!  Zapp and Roger Troutman opened the show while the Time was the second act. This was in the early days of Prince’s professional career where we could stand right there in front of the stage! And there I was with my boyfriend, standing right in front of the stage the entire show; that was as close as I would ever get to him.  Wow, I couldn’t believe that my Momma let me go with my boyfriend to this show and I was only 17. My hearing didn’t quite return until about a week later but I wanted to see Prince again and again. And I did! Including the last concert that I saw him at which was at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 2015.  That show was a couple days after he performed at the White House.  I couldn’t believe how my friend didn’t want to go because of the price, so I went alone. Funny, when I got in line, there were about 6 or seven females and we were all by ourselves.  I said to myself; it’s Prince; therefore it’s okay to go alone. 

Because my blog is about my genealogy research, I will say something about Prince’s Roots.  As other researchers have said, Prince Roots Run DEEP in Louisiana! But his ancestors also lived in Arkansas, Virginia, Georgia and Mississippi. I’m probably missing a state or two but Louisiana is what sticks out to me. I search his surnames (Nelsons, Shaws, Nashs, Jenkins, Phillips, and the Bonnells/Bunnells) just to find one that I might share. But that was not to be found.

I once read an article about Dorothy Dandridge and it stated that her sister-in-law and best friend was Geraldine Pate Nicohlas. Pate is one of my surnames so I "googled" Dorothy’s friend and discovered that the friend was from Minnesota. I screamed PRINCE! Prince is from Minnesota! Well of course, he was the first thing that came to my mind. I thought “could Prince be a Pate descendant?” Well he wasn’t; I was so hoping to claim him as a Blood Relative. But that was how crazy I was into Prince.

I could relate to his music because he was different, wild and sexy and he didn’t appear to care about who liked it or not. I somehow knew this when I was young teenager and it didn’t bother me.  I’m glad he never let the powers that be boxed him in. 

I Will Forever Love You!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hey Art! Your Roots Are Showing!

I finally got another member of my family to take a DNA test! 

My half-brother M. Artis took the Ancestry DNA test on December 4, 2015 and the results came in on record time on December 22nd. I guess the folks at Ancestry were into the spirit of giving.  Thank you AncestryDNA!

Well it's official, he is my mother's son. LOL... There are times when I think that we can't possibly be related because we are soo different but Ancestry confirmed our relationship.

I once read somewhere that DNA is "randomly" passed down from generation to generation; well that also includes from child to child.  For instance, my brother and I match as 1st cousins instead of half-siblings and Gedmatch states that we are 1.5 generations removed.  

Side by side comparison of my brother and my mother's DNA Results

My Ancestry DNA Results

My brother’s father, Sylvester Artis, is deceased but with Mom’s DNA we can compare what he inherited from her and his father and some interesting facts were discovered. I inherited my Asian DNA from my Mom but my brother did not. I believe the Asian DNA comes from our maternal grandmother, Classie. Classie’s father was supposedly Native American however, another family lore said that he was from India. Perhaps there is some substance to this family tale.

Another ironic fact is that both my brother and mother have Melanesia DNA but I don’t. Like I said, some kids inherit and some don’t. Similarly, he has more Nigerian and less Cameroon/Congo and Benin/Togo DNA, than Mom and I.  

But what really surprised me is that my brother has 16% Irish ancestry while Mom only has 8% and I have 5%.  This discovery reminds me that we can never assume anything. Because my brother is darker than Mom and I, I assumed he would have less European DNA. Instead he has twice the amount our mother has. Never let the amount of melanin fool you! 

My brother’s father was a light skin African American and who had some free ancestors, perhaps his “original father” aka father’s father’s father’s and so on was from Ireland. But that is something that my brother will have to research.  In fact, it is well known that most of the Artises in Wayne, Wilson and Greene Counties North Carolina were descended from Free African Americans.   

Mr. Sylvester’s Ancestors:

Parents - Absolum and Laurina (Rena) Smith Artis:

Paternal Grandparents - Albert and Neicy Simmons Artis:

According to the 1860 census, Albert Artis’ parents, Edwin and Emily Artis, were free African Americans.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t as successful in discovering Laurina Smith Artis’ family, however, another family lore (We got plenty of these.) says that Absolum and Laurina were second cousins.

Perhaps this post will give my Big Brother The Genealogy Itch. Hey Art...want you come over to the Genealogy side!

Ancestry DNA; U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT. USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

52 Ancestors 2015 Edition - Week #16:100 years and Counting

My Aunties: Ethel Becton Artis and Leona Reed Becton

This week’s theme is based on those relatives who lived a long life aka Centenarians. Well I am happy to say that I had two female relatives who were Centenarians. In addition to living to the ripe old age of 102; they were both my father’s aunts: Ethel Artis and Leona Becton.  Something else they had in common was that they were the first born in their families and they outlived their siblings. A lot of times, it’s the youngest child who outlives everyone else in their families but these two ladies defy the odds.

Ethel Pearl Becton Artis
While these weekly posts are supposed to be dedicated to one ancestor, I could not see myself not including Aunt Ethel. Aunt Ethel was born in 1892 and she was my paternal grandmother’s (Minnie Becton Powell Coley) oldest sister who happened to be the first born of William and Phoebe Taylor Becton’s nine children.  Aunt Ethel married June Scott Artis in 1912; they had 3 children Amanda, James and Edgar Artis when she died she had 15 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great-grandchildren. Aunt Ethel lived all her life in North Carolina until she passed in 1994.  

Leona Becton
Leona Reed Becton married Ethel’s brother, George Becton (April 25, 1910 – August 8, 1987) on November 18, 1945; their union lasted 42 years.  Aunt Leona was born on July 30, 1908 in Marion County, South Carolina to Session and Mary Johnson Reed. She had two brothers, McKinley and Allen, and one sister, Liza Reed Dickson. 

Aunt Leona was the only one of her siblings who had children and to this day no one knows what became of her son James Ward whom she had by her first husband. There were two stories that I heard about James. The first was that he visited his mother in the late 1960s but no one knows what happened and why he never returned.  Another story was told by Aunt Leona to her caretaker, Ann. Ann asked her why she never had children and she told Ann; “I had a son and his name was James.” She said that when she moved to Washington that she left James in South Carolina with her sister but her sister could not “handle” James; so James came to live with Aunt Leona and Uncle George.  One day James told Aunt Leona that he was going out to meet some friends but he never returned home.  I believe that James suffered a terrible fate or he would had contacted his mother.

When Aunt Leona turned 100 her health began to decline.  Her last years were spent in a nursing facility where almost every weekend my mom and I would visit her.  Aunt Leona never wanted us to leave however, we always told her that we would return. Sadly, she always told us that “you just got here.” Once when she was hospitalized, she told me that she “Loved Her Bectons.” I told her that “we loved her too.” She died 8 days before her 103rd birthday; it was the date that she was buried on.

I believe that nobody wants to die but most of us don’t want to be the last to go. When you’re the last of your family or your generation or your friends, your lonely and that’s how I felt with Aunt Leona. She once mention that she did not know why she lived so long.  

Aunt Leona in 2010

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

52 Ancestors Week 14: My Favorite Photo - Courtesy of Classie Virginia Pate Fuller

Classie Virginina Pate Fuller
Do not use photo without my expressed permission.

This is my latest post for the 2015 edition of the 52 Ancestors Blogging Challenge. If you’re not familiar with Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge, check out her Blog at “No Story to Small.”
Like last year, the blogging challenge was about dedicating a post each week to a specific ancestor but a twist has been added to this year’s challenge: themes.  The theme for this week is “favorite photo” and my favorite photo is a picture of my maternal grandmother, Classie Virginia Pate Fuller (8/21/1901-9/2/1969).  

My grandmother was born to John (1843-1903) and Sarah McCall Pate (1872-1909) in North Carolina. She was the youngest of 12 children.  She lived all her life in Wayne County, North Carolina. On November 16, 1920, she married Leslie Fuller and in 1925 she gave birth to her only child. Mafull (the name she was called by her grandchildren) departed this life in 1969.
Two thoughts comes to mind when I look at this picture. First, I always thought that this picture was taken when she was a teenager but her family doesn’t know what year it was taken or how old she was, nor do we know where it was taken or for what event. What I do know is that Mafull had this serious expression, in fact, an 8 ½ x 10 copy of this photo is kept in my mom’s bedroom and when my little nieces look at the photo; they say “she looks mean.” I told them that she looks serious!  
Because she was not smiling, the second thing that comes to mind is that Mafull was sad or lonely. I believe that this picture was taken after her mother died.  Mafull lost her parents at a very young age. Her father died when she was 3 or 4 and her mother died when she was 9 or 10. Unfortunately, North Carolina did not begin recording death certificates until 1913 so there is no record of when her parents died. I just know when her mother died; she went to live with her brother, Roscoe and his wife.
Someone once told me that people back then didn’t like taking pictures because the camera might take away their soul. Maybe someone told Mafull this same story and she was afraid to smile. But perhaps someone told her that she had to take a picture and because she was young and obedient; she took this unemotional picture.
But the most interesting aspect of this photo is her beauty. Okay, I will admit that I’m biased and she is my grandmother but to me; she is pretty in this picture.  Her complexion appears fair but my family said that she was “reddish” looking. Seriously, I don’t know what that means except that her complexion wasn’t real light nor real dark. My mom, her only child, inherited her tiny noise and her small lips; however no one in the family inherited her green eyes. In the picture, you can’t tell that the color of her eyes are green or as my brothers say they were hazel (sometimes light brown and sometimes green). My brothers once said that Mafull’s eyes would light up the room at night.  Recently we reconnected with a long lost cousin who said that MaFull had the prettiest blue eyes. But if you ask my mom, she will argue that her “momma had grey eyes.”
Mafull once told my mom that she, Mafull, look like her mother, Sarah who was biracial; it’s possible that Sarah passed her eye color to her daughter. Sarah’s father was from County Clare Ireland so I can only assumed that is how Mafull inherited her beautiful eyes.
Her clothing tells me that perhaps its fall or wintertime when she posed for this picture. The black overcoat and white cap that’s pull down her head gives me the impression that it was cold and almost all of her hair is neatly tuck in the cap, except for the wisp of a bang which is why I also think that she’s a preteen in this picture. Mafull appears so innocent.
Recently, I was looking through a family album and I found 4 faded “tintype” photos. Included in this set of photos is another picture of Mafull but younger. In the “tintype”, Mafull is similarly dressed like the picture above. She’s wearing a gray color coat, a white cap and that same sad expression on her face however, this time she’s sitting down in a chair surrounded by 3 shadowy figures who appears to be females. Currently the photo is being restored.  Oh, how I wish these pictures were taken in color!
Well, my favorite picture sits on my mom’s dresser. I guess that’s a cool thing to see when you wake up in the morning; is your mother looking at you.  It’s funny how time changes our perceptions. I don’t know about my mom but when I was growing up; I had celebrities (Prince, R&B music group Switch and NY Yankees baseball legend Reggie Jackson) on my bedroom wall and they were who I wanted to see when I went to sleep and when I woke up in the morning.  But now that I’m older, I don’t mind seeing pictures of Mafull and other departed loves ones who I miss when I wake up in the morning.

Pictures of Mafull through the years.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

52 Ancestors #1 - A Fresh Start

1870 Census for Renah Daniels

Happy New Year!

I’m happy to say that Amy Johnson Crow has decided to continue the 52 Ancestor Challenge. Last year, I only created 16 posts for this challenge. This year I hope to have 26 posts dedicated to the challenge. If you don’t know about it, Amy Johnson Crow’s blog, “No Story Too Small”, offered a challenge to genealogists to write a post once a week about one particular ancestor. Well, the challenge continues in 2015 with a twist or as Amy wrote, “a prompt.” The first week’s prompt is dedicated to “A Fresh Start.” For instance, which ancestor was given “A Fresh Start” or which ancestor you need to research over again. You know a “re-boot.”  This post is dedicated to those brick walls that I’m determined to break-through this year.

For instance, what happened to those Pate brothers, John, Robert and Wyatt. They were my maternal grandmother’s older brothers who were adults by the time my grandmother was born in 1901 but no living family member can explain what became of them. Did they marry and have children? Or did they suffer a horrible demise? Where did they lived after they left Wayne and Greene Counties, North Carolina?

Another mystery is whatever became of Grandma Mary Vick; actually she was my maternal Great-Great-Grandmother who left home when her daughter was a toddler and never returned.  What woman leaves her small child and never returns home?

How can I forget those family members who I find only on one census, for example, my maternal grandfather’s Great-Great-Great-Grandmother, Renah Daniels. My DNA cousin who goes by the username of “DabofSugar”contacted me on and told me to look for Renah on the 1870 census and behold...there she is. Renah and her family was found on a page just before her daughter’s family, Olivia/Silvia Roundtree Newsome. Renah’s age is listed as 35 but if you look at the actual page its 55 and her name is spelled Rena. Sadly, I can’t find Rena/Renah or her children after this census. They all disappeared. I’m hoping that later on this year, I can provide an update on a few of my break walls.

I want to thank Amy again for this challenge because if it wasn’t for her; I would still be wondering “what am I going to do with all this information that I’ve collected on the ancestors.” 

Source: Year: 1870 Census: Black Creek, Wilson, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1166; Page: 451B.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Finding Your Roots! Season Finale!

Decoding the Past Through DNA 

Photo from the Finding Your Roots Website

It’s the final episode of Season 2 Finding Your Roots Series. Now folks can call me between the hours of 8pm and 9pm on Tuesday nights and I'll answer the phone. 

This episode focuses on DNA testing, Governor Deval Patrick, Actress Jessica Alba and Dr. Gates. I find it interesting that the final episode aired about a week after “re-vamp” their DNA testing which has put all its users, at least the African Americans, in a teasy; however, not this user.  Basically what Ancestry did was improved its DNA algorithm to determine our matches. I’m glad they did. Because first of all, I had 50 pages (2,663 DNA cousins) of matches and now I had 19 pages.  This was too many cousins and a greater possibility of many false positive relatives. Second, my mom was described as a close relative; while her aunt was listed as my 1st-2nd cousin. Now, my mom is described as my parent but her aunt is still described as my 1st-2nd cousin, not perfect but better.  My matches are now described as “extremely high,” “very high,” to “moderately confident.” I’m thrilled because I feel that I might can knock down a few "break-walls" and find some ancestors.

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts
Governor Patrick is a Chicago native whose father was a Black Nationalist who left the family when Deval was 4 years old.  The Governor was raised by his mother who later sent her son to Massachusetts where the state made a major impact on her son who would one day become the state’s first African American Governor.  Well the Governor’s DNA is just as interesting. We see a document related to the Governor Patrick’s ancestor, Emily Wintersmith.  Emily received land from her former slave owner, Dr. Harvey Slaughter, “for little to no money.”  Dr. Gates and his team felt that Deval’s ancestor might be blood related to Dr. Slaughter.  So genetic genealogist CeCe Moore compared DNA from Deval to descendants of Dr. Slaughter to see if they were genetically related and they were.  It was concluded that Emily’s child was fathered by Dr. Slaughter.  We also find out that both the Governor’s M-DNA and Y-DNA were traced back to Europe which meant his original paternal and maternal ancestors came from Europe, not Africa. The Governor’s DNA includes 38.9% European and 58.9% sub-Saharan African.  I couldn’t help but smile when the Governor look at his family tree he said “It makes you feel small and big at this same time.”

Actress Jessica Alba
Jessica says that she identifies more with her father side of the family, the Mexican American side and not her mother’s European side. However, her DNA is more than just Mexican American, in fact, her DNA analysis included: 33.5% British, 5.1% French German, 3.9% Scandinavian, 17.3% Ilberian and 1.4% Italian. Jessica said that her paternal side which is her Mexican side, experience racial prejudice living in America.  For example, her paternal grandmother’s family was half dark and half light so those who were light complexion went to the white schools and those who were dark complexion went to the Mexican schools. This is ironic because her father was also tested and it was discovered that his family was descended from Native Americans. So apparently, Jessica’s ancestors were not immigrants or outsiders as they were treated but natives and had been living in North America for centuries.

Dr. Skip Gates           
CeCe Moore told Dr. Gates one particular surname kept coming up amongst his DNA matches and that surname was trace to a man named Wilmore Mayle who was possibly Dr. Gates ancestor.  We’re introduce to Alexandra Finley who is a direct descendant of Wilmore and through DNA testing, Alexandra and Dr. Gates are confirmed as cousins. Alexandra provided Dr. Gates with one of those remarkable discoveries. It was a Virginia record dated in 1826 where Wilmore freed a female slave named Nancy and in the record Wilmore states that Nancy is his wife. This was 141 years before the Loving v. Virginia landmark decision that invalidated prohibition of interracial marriages.  How did Wilmore survive this great proclamation? Well, Wilmore whose baptismal record confirmed that he was white, straddled the “color-line.”  Alexandra found some records where Wilmore was listed as black and other records where he’s described as white but she also found records where he was listed as a mulatto. It appears that Wilmore was willing to do whatever he could to remain married to Nancy. The Tammy Terrell and Marvin Gayle song comes to my mind when I think about their love: “Aint No Mountain High Enough to Keep Me from You.” In fact the couple with their six children move to the mountains of West Virginia which was where Dr. Gates trace his ancestors to Chestnut Ridge, West Virginia and to a community of mulattoes. Dr. Gates found the Mayle cemetery and a mulatto community who found safety amongst themselves where they inter-marry. Their descendants return to the community every year to celebrate what they call “Heritage Day.”  It was never confirmed that Dr. Gates was a direct descendant of Wilmore Mayle but we do know that he was related to Wilmore.   

I have met a lot of DNA relatives through Ancestry DNA, 23andme and FTDNA. But finding that common ancestor hasn’t been easy, almost impossible. I wish I had for each of my lines an older relative who I could get tested. Sadly, I don’t but I can work with what I got.  For instance, the largest percentage of my African roots come from Cameroon/Congo with 22%,  however, I also have 18% DNA from the  Ivory Coast/Ghana.

My Ancestry DNA Results

My 23andme DNA Results

Another fascination about DNA research is that DNA can fill in the missing pieces. For example, if all of my DNA matches had family trees that were open to the public and each tree covered at least 5 to 6 generations, then perhaps I could have a “breakthrough.” But until then, I will keep banging on that "brick-wall." Because my 23andme test results tells me that my Native American DNA is located on chromosomes 3 and 17 and if I could find a match located on the exact segments of these two chromosomes; then it’s possible that we could be descendants of the same ancestor who may be full or part Native American. Or if I found a match whose four grandparents were Native Americans, then I would know which tribe or area my Native American ancestor originated from.

The episodes in this season has been entertaining and educational. I congratulate Dr. Gates and his staff  with so much thought provoking information.  Dr. Gates said that it wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists group people into 3 great races: Negroids, Mongoloids and Caucasions. Some would say that DNA science has blurred those classifications; I say that man has blurred those classifications. But like it was said in this episode, DNA does show that there is no PURITY OF BLOOD!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #45 Robert Lee Becton

(Another entry in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge)

This week on November 11th, Americans will honor our Veterans. Meanwhile on November 10th, I will honor a special Veteran, my Dad, on his birthday. Happy 95th Birthday in Heaven Daddy.

My Daddy was born Robert Lee Powell in Stantonsburg, North Carolina in 1919 to Joseph Sylvester and Minnie Becton Powell.  He was their first and only child that they had together.  Unfortunately, I don't know when they separated and divorce but it was shortly after he was born. So Daddy was raised by his maternal grandparents, Will and Phoebe Taylor Becton. I was told that Will was an intimidating man which is probably why Daddy decide to adopt the Becton surname instead of Powell.  My mom even told me that Daddy called Will and Phoebe, mother and father and he called his mother by her name, Minnie.

Daddy's birth certificate

Daddy's father had 5 children by his second wife and grandma Minnie had two additional sons with her second husband.  But because he was raised by his grandparents, Daddy grew up with his maternal aunts and uncles which caused people to think that Daddy was their little brother.

After school, Daddy joined the Army on October 22, 1942 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina as a private. I always found it funny that my Daddy would tell me that he went to "Nam" (Vietnam) and his brothers didn't. But when I was with his brother Hugh, Uncle Hugh said that he was the one that went to "Nam" likewise, I got the same story from Uncle Russell. Perhaps one day I will discover who really went to "Nam."

Daddy's Registration Card

My Dad lived most of his life in Washington, D.C. where he worked at the Pentagon. Daddy's home was located at 10th and K Streets NE; it was the house that my Grandmother Minnie bought when she left North Carolina.

In 1964, Daddy married my mother in Rockville, Maryland. Sadly history finds a way of repeating itself, my parents separated two years after I was born.

Mom and Daddy on their wedding day in Rockville, Maryland

My Dad's nickname was "Dude" and most folks called him Dude Becton. I don't know when or how he got his nickname but it was probably because he was acting "slick" or "dapper." But that was him and he was my Dad. I miss him and I hope he's proud of me. Daddy died on February 27, 1983 in North Carolina from complications of diabetes. He is buried at the Becton Family Cemetery in Eureka, North Carolina.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding Your Roots #6 - Tracing Your Slave Ancestors

To Trace an African American Family Back into Slavery Use to be Impossible but Today it’s Possible!

Photo from the Finding Your Roots Website

So far this season, this had to be my favorite episode and it’s probably because all three celebrities have North Carolina Roots. Let’s hear it for my home state! 

Rapper, Social Activist and Proud Native New Yorker

Nas’ mother, Fannie Ann Little, was born in Richmond County, North Carolina and he spent two weeks every summer at his grandparent’s home in North Carolina. His grandparents were Mack and Nannie Little who were perhaps related because Dr. Gates researchers discovered that his mother’s family tree was filled with men and women who shared the same last name, Little. In fact, they were able to trace back 5 generations of Nas relatives to the small community where his mother grew up. His family was traced back to 1824 to Calvin Little who married Pocahontas Little.

The researchers discovered that Nas’ great-grandmother lived next door to a White Little widow who married into the family that owned Nas' family.  By researching this neighbor’s family tree, it was discovered that her father-in-law, Thomas Little, owned many generations of Nas’ family.  This was one of many discoveries presented to Nas.  For instance, Dr. Gates showed Nas another document which was an 1854 ledger describing the total number of cotton picked per slave each day.  This ledger told us how much cotton Calvin Little picked and Nas seem astonished with the list and even made a joke that on the days his ancestor had low totals or no record at all that Calvin told his master “to screw themselves.”  Sorry Nas but on most plantations, you couldn’t call in sick or tell the "master" what they could do with their cotton.

Later on Nas is given a receipt dated 1859 for the bill of sale of Pocahontas who was his great-great-grandmother and she was worth $830.00. The rapper said that he had more than that in his pocket. Well I want even discuss my feelings about him walking around with that amount of money.  Let’s just say that I certainly wasn’t expecting him to say I got more than $830.00 in my pocket. That’s nice Nas and if that’s how you can relate then good for you but I just wasn’t expecting that kind of response.  Nas did redeem himself when he said that he wanted to buy the land that his ancestors slaved on. That’s what I’m talking about!  When Dr. Gates show Nas a picture of the one of the slave owners, the rapper stared and said that he was looking at the face that his ancestors saw every day. “I’m looking into their world…”

Angela Bassett
Actress and director

Angela grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her father’s family was from Princeville, North Carolina. Oh my, Edgecombe county is next door to Nash county, one of my ancestral counties.  Like Nas, Angela's family lived next door to the daughter-in-law (Elizabeth Ingram) of the family that owned Angela’s ancestors.  My ancestors in Nash county on the 1870 and 1880 census lived next door/farm to the same White Powell family. Hmmm, I'm seeing a pattern here.  

In 1870, Elizabeth Ingram lived next door or next farm to George and Jinny Ingram who were the parents of Angela’s great-grandfather, William Henry Bassett.  Elizabeth Ingram’s father-in-law, James Ingram, owned George and Jinny.  William Henry was sold away when he was child to the Bassett family but his parents remained with the Ingrams. When he was emancipated, he kept the Bassett name while his parents use the Ingram name.  This has happen to a lot of families. For instance my great-great-grandfather, Jack Sherrod kept his owner’s last name while his mother's name was Tempie Davis and Jack’s father was Denis Barnes but Jack chose the Sherrod name. Another maternal great-grandfather was John Pate. John’s father name was Dave Smith and his mother’s name was Hannah Best.  These are just a few of my ancestors who choose not to use their parent’s surname. Perhaps they knew I would be searching for them and they wanted me to sharpen my detective skills.   

Valerie Jarrett
Illinois native, Political Activist and Sr. Advisor to the President of the United States

Valerie’s grandfather, Robert Robinson Taylor was the first Black person to graduate from MIT.  Her great-grandfather, Robert’s father, Henry Taylor was born in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Henry’s father was Angus Taylor, his slave owner who cared deeply for his son because by 1870, Henry had $5,000 worth of real estate.  

Valerie’s maternal great-great-grandfather was Victor Rochon who was from Louisiana and a free Black. Valerie’s ancestors were free as far back as early 1800. This was the result of a slave owner who had a relationship with his slave. The slave owner was Pierre Rochon of Mobile, Alabama and the slave, Mary Ann.  Pierre freed Mary Ann and their 6 children in 1700, a year before he died.  Another interesting discovery was that Valerie’s DNA results were 49% European, 46% Sub-Saharan, 5% Native American.

I commend Dr. Gates for researching rapper and activist Nas. I hope he will continue to include young entertainers in his research. In fact, he might as well research the ancestors of greatest rapper whoever lived…Tupac Shakur and since Tupac is no longer alive; Dr. Gates should do a segment on Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur.  Of course, I prefer that the segment concentrate on Afeni’s father side which would break down one of MY GENEALOGY WALLS! Afeni’s paternal grandmother, Lena Powell Williams and my paternal grandfather, Sylvester Powell were siblings and I would happily share my research and theories with Dr. Gates staff. So Dr. Gates please continue to research young people: Black, White, Latino, etc. I’m curious to see their response. We need to see and hear, excuse me, young people need to see and hear how entertainers who they revered see their family histories and if you decide to research Tupac and Afeni; don’t hesitate to reach out; just HOLLA!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Finding Your Roots - Episode #5 - America's Melting Pot

Photo from the Finding Your Roots Website
"It’s been said that America's tastes has been shaped by its immigrants"
Tom Colicchio, Italien Restaurant Business Superstar, who is the star of Top Chef.  Tom’s career and life was molded by his time spent with his relatives in the kitchen and at the dinner table.  In fact, he has been working in restaurants since he was 14 years old. Colicchio’s great-grandfather came to United States in 1901 with just $27.  His ancestor would go back and forth between America and Europe at least three times until 1947 when he brought his family to America. Dr. Gates’ research team traced the Colicchio family back 6 generations just in Vallata, Italy, a place where Tom knew nothing about.  Dr. Gates said that some immigrants would make the passage back and forth a dozen times. Colicchio said that it was a sacrifice to leave your family and it was a sacrifice to return. This is perhaps what the current immigrant community experience today; going back and forth to the homeland, all the while sacrificing for the future.

Ming Tsai, a son of Chinese immigrants who grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Ming’s show is called “Simply Ming.”  While growing up, Ming recalls that every Friday night was dinner night at Ming's grandparent’s home and the food was all homemade.  Ming's grandparents didn't talk about their life in China because of the Cultural Revolution which killed millions of Chinese. He said that more people were killed during the Cultural Revolution than the Jewish Holocust. I’ve never heard of the Cultural Revolution when you were killed for thinking differently.  When Ming's grandfather finally left China, he brought with him a book that held his genealogy. The book went back to 891 A.D. and it traced Ming’s ancestors back to Ming’s 36th grandfather. The research team eventually confirmed Ming’s grandfather’s book and traced Ming’s family tree back 90 generations which connected him to the Father of the Chinese language, Huang Di.  Huang lived around the 27th Century B.C. and was Ming's 116th great-grandfather.  I do believe that the Chinese were and are the best record keepers.

Aaron, the host of Heat Seekers, is a Mexican American who grew up in El Paso, Texas.  Aaron got his cooking skills from his mother who opened a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, New York. Aaron's mom and grandfather were from Sonora, Mexico. Rafael Gabilando, his grandfather, was one of the wealthiest cattle ranchers in Sonora but when the 1910 Mexican Revolution started; Rafael abandoned his ranch for the Unite States. Amazingly, in 1914 Rafael got his land back and in 1931 Rafael bought a new ranch in Mexico. Other surprises for Aaron included discovering a 3rd great-grandfather who fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Gates researchers traced Aaron's ancestry to his 6th generation Spanish grandfather back to 1713. Gates also gave Aaron a letter that his team found that was written by one of Aaron’s ancestors. Finally, we get to see Aaron's DNA results which included 66.4% European, 24.6% Native American, 3.7% Sub-Saharan African and 1.6% North African. Dr. Gates told Aaron the 24.6% confirmed that he had at least one grandparent who was "full blooded" Native American. This was a prediction that Aaron correctly called. 

Two years ago, a relative gave me a copy of a letter that my paternal Great-Grandmother, Fannie Sherrod Powell wrote. I can’t help but smile when I think about the letter, especially when she writes about “the baby being frisky like a cat.” I laugh because she's writing about her baby boy, my great uncle Ernest and describes him as a cat seems funny and strange but that was the “mindset” back then. 

Dr. Gates asked one of the cooks if you could cook dinner for one person who would it be?  I would cook for my sister, Mercedes aka Mercy Artis who loved to cook and eat. If she was living, she would had watch this episode because she was always watching the cooking shows. I have never heard of any of the guests on this episode until it aired but I bet my sister could tell me a lot about them.  I once shocked Mercy when I made a spaghetti salad dish. She said "himmm this is good! How did you learn how to make this?" I told her that I got the receipe from a classmate and all it required was chopping lots of veggies and boiling water for the spaghetti. Mercy laugh when she said that I found a dish that I could cook. 

Besides Mercy, I would had loved to cook for my maternal grandmother, Classie Pate Fuller. Grandma Classie died when I was 4 years old so I didn't get to spend enough time with her. My brothers describe Grandma Classie as being 4 feet tall and probably 200 lbs because she loved to cook and eat just like Mercy. My mom said that Grandma Classie told her that "my mother (Grandma Classie's mom) was short and fat and I'm supposed to be short and fat." Well I would also make the spaghetti salad for Grandma Classie just to show her that if she had cook this way; she probably would had lived longer and we would had gotten to know each other.