Secrets Locked Away in Time: Searching for My Family in History

I have always had a longing to know more about my ancestry, I wanted to know where I came from and understand why I am who I am today. I decided that I wanted to start by researching my family’s history and the best place to start learning was by talking to my elder relatives and examining the obituary of my deceased relatives.  As an African-American, my family history is similar to other African-Americans in the sense that once I get past my Great-Grandparent’s generation, tracing my ancestry becomes very difficult. On both my mother and father’s side, it is very difficult to find records for my Great-Great grandparents.

I went on and traced my father’s side of the family back to the year 1900 when my Great Grandmother was living in South Carolina with her husband and sister-in-law. Here is where things get messy. I can only go by oral history at this point because the 1890 census records were largely destroyed in a fire and my Great Grandmother’s information doesn’t seem to be listed. The first census that counted African-Americans was in 1870, but many African-Americans did not participate in the census at that time because it was during the reconstruction and slavery was just ending. Before 1870, the only records of my ancestors would be in slave schedules and property records.

Here is All that I know about My Father’s Side of the Family:

Like many African-American families, my Great Great Grandfather was born  to a family in South Carolina who enslaved him. He was the child of the slave master and an enslaved Black woman. My Great Great Grandmother was also a mixed-race Black woman, but I am not certain whether she was a product of slave master or born from mixed-race parents, but she was a “mulatto.” Here is where things get especially complicated.

My second Great  Grandfather never married, like many Black men during slavery, he was shuffled from woman to woman, so he had different families. My Great Grandmother rarely saw her father and he apparently wasn’t very nice to my second Great Grandmother. One day, a strange woman came to my Great Great Grandmother’s house and brought her something to eat. My second Great Grandmother ate the food and several days later she was dead. No one knows what caused her death…my second Great Grandfather had many women who were jealous of my Great Great grandmother though…

My Great Grandmother was more or less orphaned because her father had several other families, with no family, she was on her own. However, an unlikely group reached out to her. It was the white family of her father, the same family that had formerly owned her father. They wanted to adopt my Great Grandmother into their family, but under one condition…she had to pass herself as white. She refused to do so and as a result, she roamed the backwoods for years, with only the comfort of a stray dog. In 1898, she married my Great Grandfather and they moved into his house that he shared with his sister. They lived in that house for 20 years, raising five children. In 1920, they moved further up North, becoming part of the first wave of the Great Migration, and settled in a border city that lies between the North and South. The city was still segregated in the 1920s, but more tolerant than rural South Carolina.

My Grandmother who was young at the time of the move, grew up in the city, but being raised by Black Southerners, she had a quiet demeanor and a slight accent. She was raised in the ways of the south and the food she cooked and her mannerism reflected that. That is how I remember my Grandmother.

There are so many unanswered questions that I will never know the answer to because they can’t be answered on a census or property records, like was my second Great Grandmother really murdered?…How many other families did my second Great Grandfather have…why did he neglect my Great Grandmother?

…and Who was my Great-Great-Great Grandmother and how did she come to be involved with the man who fathered my Great-Great grandfather, who was also her slave master? Did they have feelings for each other and what made the white family reach out to my Great grandmother after her own mother died?…and wait, so the man who fathered my second Great Grandfather, would be an ancestor of mine too…so should I be angry that he owned my Great Grandfather and that he had a sexual relationship with my third Great Grandmother…when she had no power because she was his slave…? but at the same time,  I might not exist had this not happened…

so this brings a great question to light. When things happen in history that aren’t supposed to, but you still exist…does that mean those things were really supposed to happen then or no? Is our existence an accidental coincidence or was it destiny?

and when were my family brought to the United States? How many generations had they lived in America…where in Africa did we come from, who were we before we got here?

So many unanswered questions…

7 thoughts on “Secrets Locked Away in Time: Searching for My Family in History”

  1. hmm great post peanut. I too wonder what happened to my ancestors.All i know is about my grandparents.I only have one granparent left and that;s my grandma on my moms side.I never met my grandfather on my moms side because he got killed when my mom was 3.My grandfather on my dads side was high yellow and he told my mom either his grandmother or great grandmother got raped by a white man.That;s all i know.
    I don’t know how to really answer the question of if our existence is an accident or our destiny. A part me says its our destiny but i don’t want to sound like those crazy republicans that say babies a product of rape are a blessing.All i can do is wait for the prophecy to be fulfilled

    Acts 7:6-7
    6 But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would [c]be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. 7 ‘And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they will come out and [d]serve Me in this place.’


  2. You can also look into genetic genealogy. It may not give you particulars, but you could gain insight by knowing your tribal past. Try not to fall prey to having animosity towards the tribe that enslaved your ancestors.


  3. Great thread, Peanut…

    there is this huge blind spot in American history, what are the stories of the people brought over in slavery…and it seems if you even barely scratch the surface, you find incredible testaments to human surfival and overcoming obsticles


  4. My friend is a Polish American who hates Russians and Germans for their various attempts to eradicate his people and ancestors over 1000 years…
    I cannot shake him from his anger – his prejudice – towards those that did not have anything to do with these events, no more than I can my Irish friend from his similar feelings toward the English, my Armenian friend toward the Turks, my Chinese friend toward Japanese and so on and so forth.

    But, when you scratch the surface of our families and read the stories of tragedy, misfortune, goodness, triumph and perseverance, you thank God for the diversity of good people who for whatever reason made America their home.
    One hopes that as we dig deeper, we can all see the common struggle and aspirations of all our families.


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