I’ve been curious about my family tree for sometime. I don’t know when it started. It could have been when my aunt Grace told a story about re-connecting with our family in Saint Vincent. Maybe it was the silence that swept my maternal Granddad’s face when I asked him about his father. Maybe it was the feeling that stayed with me when Mom revealed she didn’t know her mother. I know my curiosity only grew the day I found out my paternal Granddad’s last name was different then my own. But it all balls down to attempting to answer, “Who am I?”
I used to get embarrassed when someone asked, “Where are your parents from?” I couldn’t say somewhere in the southern part of the United States. Nor could I say a Caribbean island whose water is so clear you could see fish swimming in it. I didn’ have a genealogy road map back to Africa. “My parents are from Brooklyn,” I said since it was all I knew. It’s nothing wrong with being from Brooklyn. It’s one of a kind if you ask me. It’s where cookouts turned into block parties that transformed into cherished memories. Yet, I wanted to know what happened before Brooklyn.
I learned pieces of history from reading books and what was taught at my schools. But none of that could answer where were my ancestors in any point in time; inferring their story versus knowing their struggle is like night and day. What if my family linked to slaves, colonizers, royalty or all three? I can only imagine how that kind of knowledge could awaken me.
I’ve been unraveling bits of my family tree on and off since 2012. The journey has led me to meet family via Facebook; find ancestors through ancestry.com; seek out pictures and documents; and ask questions as aunts, cousins, and my Grandma tell oral stories. The highlight of this journey was meeting the Trumpet family – the family my aunt Grace told me about as a child – for a family reunion.
However, this journey is far from over. My family tree has deep roots. But digging to discover doesn’t inherently equal buried treasure. Maybe it means buried troubles. I want to identify my 2nd great grandparents. But my great-grandfather – the one who my maternal Granddad refused to utter his name – walked out on his wife, daughter and son. Bringing him up to get to his parents revives generational pain.
Mom didn’t know her mother who was born and raised in Brooklyn. But I was told what Mom was told as a kid – her Mom – my maternal Grandma’s roots lead to the Caribbean. My great-grandfather, my maternal Grandma’s father, was from Saint Vincent, which connects to the Trumpet family line. While my great-grandmother, my maternal Grandma’s Mom, was from Barbados. This root still needs to be uncovered.
The day I asked my paternal Grandma, “How come my father doesn’t have his father’s last name? How my Grandma would respond was a crap shot. I wasn’t trying to be out of line. But I didn’t know if my Grandma would cuss me out – She’s feisty. I just wanted to know. She paused a minute and peeled her head back as she said, “I felt like it.” It was at that moment I knew to find out about my patrilineal line would be challenging.
What if genealogy provided a thread to mend broken kinship among black folks? I don’t believe it could stop black people from killing black people. But I imagine it could mend a layer of self-hate.
There’s an Iroquois proverb that states, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” I would like to look seven generations back. Maybe it will provide some knowledge for the seven generations yet to come.
7 Generations – is a blog series that digs into my family tree to consider the impact of circumstances and decisions through the generations.
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment. He has been featured in several publications such as: The Chronicle, The Troy Record, Albany Student Press & UA Magazine. Find his books at www.Royalbluepublishing.com and follow his personal blog at www.rashaunjallen.com.