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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.

Finding Your Roots! Episode #4 Social Activists

Episode 4 - Lives Shaped by the Revolutionary War and the Civil War

Photo from the Finding Your Roots Website

Ben Affleck, the accomplish actor and director, gets his social activism from his parents, especially is mom, in fact, Ben's mother was committed to working in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer in 1964. But Ben had another activist in his family tree, his 3rd great-grandfather: Almond Bruce French. Almond Bruce was a lawyer in Ohio who believed he could speak to the dead, in fact, he went around comforting widows after the civil war by using his skills to communicate with their departed loved ones.  Dr. Gates' staff was able to research Ben's paternal line back to 1604 and another amazing discovery was a surprised 10th cousin, Ben's longtime pal, Matt Damon. Dr. Gates surprised Ben by introducing him to another ancestor named Jesse Stanley who fought in the American Revolution by fighting for the Patriot side. This made the proud New England Patriot fan beam.

Khandi Alexander, dancer and acclaimed actress.

To escape the racism in Florida, Khandi parents moved to New York and sadly, her parents did not talk about life in Florida. One possible reason for their silence was that Khandi's maternal grandfather was murdered at the young age of 25, in fact, she had never seen a picture of her maternal grandfather Joshua Masters.  

I've never seen a picture of my paternal grandfather and I've always been told that my dad looked just like his father. Ironically, I look like my dad, so I can't help but wondered if I look like my grandfather, Sylvester Powell.

After his death, Khandi's grandmother left Florida to distance her children from the Masters side of the family. Khandi's family was silent like they were ashamed when it was the murders who should had been ashamed. Dr. Gates stated that her family focused on the future instead of the past and that can led a person or persons to have no clue about their family's success and failures. We all need to know our successes and failures so we can learn how not to repeat them. I always wondered about my relatives who left North Carolina and their families, especially, my maternal great-great-grandmother, Mary Vick who left her family including her toddler daughter. I wonder if Mary witnessed or was affected by a tragedy that caused her to leave and never return again?

Dr. Gates presented two pictures of Khandi's slave ancestors and he said that it was a miracle that they were able to find an actual photo of former slave ancestor.  This is not always true because I have pictures of two of my slave ancestors (Jack Sherrod and Easter Exum Vick) and there are other researchers who have pictures of their slave ancestors. Khandi said that because her ancestors were slaves she believes "that no matter what they do to me I can get up and keep going because if they did it; I can to."

Ben Jealous is the former President of the NAACP and a social activists since college.  

Peter G. Morgan was Ben Jealous' 3rd great-grandfather who was a former slave who Ben grew up revering because he fought for former slave rights. Peter G. is also the ancestor that Ben would had like to had met because Ben said that Peter was "born with a fire to be free." Peter G. Morgan was manumitted aka freed in 1857 at 45 years old. Peter purchased his owned freedom by using his trade; his was a shoemaker. We don't know how much his freedom cost but whatever a 45 year old slave with shoemaker skills cost; Peter worked and saved enough money to buy his freedom. That had to be a lot of shoes; even Imelda Marcos would had been jealous! Ironically in 1860, Peter owned 4 slaves; his wife and his 3 daughters but by 1864, Peter freed his family. Jealous became very emotional when reading the slave schedule; he probably was placing himself in his ancestors shoes and thinking that he would had done the same for his family. I recall the time when I first got emotional when I discover my slave ancestor. It was when I found John Pate and his family on the 1870 census, I said to myself, "I found you Kunta Kinte." I had been searching the wrong county so when I found the family I was overjoyed.

Ben's father is white and his mother is black and Ben's DNA results was 80.9% white. Gates asked Ben if he ever tried to pass for white. He said no.  Because Ben's mother was black his white side disconnected from his father, so Ben didn't know anything about his paternal ancestors. He soon discovered that he had 8 ancestors who served in the Revolutionary war. Dr, Gates stated that the Revolutionary war was a noble fight for freedom but not freedom for all. Many of these patriots owned slaves because these patriots did not see their slaves as equal.