When Miss Harriet Pierce asked me, “Would you like to do a presentation on your genealogy research in March?”
I had no idea how my research would develop. I had only been a week or two settled in Barbados and eager to make use of three things: my great-grandma Irene Trumpet nee DePeiza’s marriage and death certificates and my vision. But my own doubt and fear festered alongside my vision. Would I even discover anything worth sharing?
I wanted to say, “I only expect to find Baptism, Death, and Marriage records.” But I simply said, “Yes!”
My vision to write a memoir about my yearlong journey in Barbados was not a requirement of my Fulbright. The only requirement was two reports of my journey. The pressure to write an “African-American’s year-long journey to discover his caribbean roots” is, was my own. But I wouldn’t have guessed that this genealogy research would have (1) led me to my Bajan family: meeting lots of cousins who are descendants of some of Great-grandma’s 10 siblings, (2) form family ties as grown-ups beyond the initial reconnection and (3) travel back 5 generations, 175 years, from my 3rd Great-granddad enslaved in Rock Dundo, St. James to myself who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.
My journey to connect with my Bajan heritage didn’t start with being the 1st Fulbright scholar in my SUNY Stony Brook’s MFA program history. It was much less grandeur. A search on ancestry.com here and there, a guessing of Great-grandma’s age at the Office of Vital Records in New York City, and an unorthodox array of questions to my Brooklyn family I grew up under to the extended cousins who are the children and grandchildren of my Grandma’s siblings. Did I lose you? My Mom, Christine Hunnicutt, was 1 of 5 children. Grandma, Carmen Trumpet was 1 of 4. And Great-grandma Irene Trumpet was 1 of 10. Keeping up with genealogy is a skill in itself. Especially for myself whose Great-grandma had three surnames. She was a Francis at birth, a DePeiza prior to marriage and a Trumpet from marriage to her deathbed. On my blog, rashaunjallen.com, I write a blog series called, 7-generations, that digs into my family tree to consider the impact of circumstances and decisions through the generations. I write about several of my family lines including those that descend from Barbados. That was the precursor to this journey. And the Fulbright granted me a key ingredient needed to make solid strides in my family tree—time. I paused my life in the United States: placed an apartment worth of items in storage and kissed my supportive girlfriend a “See you later.”
In time, I would meet several researchers Sophia Lewis, Patricia Stafford and Marcia Nurse all members of the genealogy group. Some of my new-found cousins: Marquetta Drakes (a 3rd cousin who found me through ancestry.com)—we were both barking up the same DePeiza family tree, Ingrid “Ann” Juliet Rosanne Carew who didn’t turn this Brooklyn kid away that came calling at her door, Clement “Tony” Wayne Anthony DePeiza who I found in the phonebook and Duran “Ricky” DePeiza who often was busy but always made time to introduce me to family all around the island. I would spend countless hours in the Barbados National Archives (Stacia Adams and the national archives team), St. James Parish Church (Rose), Supreme Court of Barbados (Miss Maynard and Miss Peggy Prescod), Barbados Land Registry, Barbados National Museum and Historical Society and any place connected to my Bajan family like Mount Standfast and Rock Dundo. I would be remiss not to speak about books that were inspiring and informative like Sugar in the Blood: A Family Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart, A History of Barbados: from Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market by Hilary McD. Beckles, and Freedmen of Barbados: Names and Notes for Genealogical and Family Research compiled by Jerome S. Handler, Ronald Hughes, and Ernest M. Witltshire. All of this to find out what brought my family to today. Was it faith? Hustle? Survival instincts? But in trying to answer those questions I found myself asking different ones: Why does my 3rd great-grand have a Jewish last name “Pizar” on the slave records of William Hinds Prescod? Why did enslavers get reparations when those enslaved like my 3rd Great-granddad were given conditional freedom in the form of an apprentice labourship in the same place many of them were enslaved? A truth revealed from any of my questions led to more unanswered questions. The method to my madness was to aim for two sources to validate, contradict, or provide a new perspective from as many primary sources as possible from certificates to the oral history provided by older family members.
But Miss Harriet Pierce nudged me on like so many people before me who had come through the Shilstone Library doors looking for answers. That nudge turned into a well-received presentation called De Berry don Drop too Far at a genealogy meeting. What’s left? More questions that need answers. And I aim to turn all the journaling I did and documents I found into a memoir.
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) holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook and is the first Fulbright scholar in the program’s history. He has independently published poetry chapbooks: A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment. He has been published in TSR: The Southampton Review, Tishman Review, Rigorous, Auburn Avenue, Poui and Fourth Genre. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.
“Rashaunjallen.com is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.”