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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!

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