African American Genealogy Part XII: Home is Where the Heart is

Posted November 18, 2011 by SharonGeni | 2 Comments

This blog series provides information on how to conduct family research — with a special focus on the challenges that apply for African Americans. Our goal is to help you appreciate history, learn how to research your family and be inspired to join a community – Geni.com – that seeks to unite the entire world into one big family. Join us for an adventure that is sure to last a lifetime!

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Home is Where the Heart is

by Sharon Leslie Morgan

When I was a child, many of my friends were recent arrivals from the South whose families came north during “The Great Migration.” Those of us who were born in Chicago sometimes laughed at their funny accents and country ways. There were also many children who disappeared every summer. When school let out for vacation, their parents sent them south to experience country life with their grandparents.

I was not one of those children. Although I have undeniable roots in Alabama and Mississippi, I was not born there nor did I have grandparents in those locations to spend my summers with. I didn’t visit the South until I was a married woman with a child of my own. I have been making pilgrimages back at almost every opportunity since.

As a genealogist, I believe the best way to appreciate the truth about my ancestors is to walk in their footsteps. My journeys take me to a lot of old courthouses, cemeteries and farms.

African Americans have a long history that reaches all the way from the cotton fields of the South across the waters to Africa and all points in between. We provided the labor that built America — literally. Over the four centuries we have been in this land, we have contributed in every possible way to the evolution of American society. I can think of no better way to honor those contributions than by researching my genealogy and trying to see life through my ancestor’s eyes.

During my travels, I have visited the courthouse in Forrest County, Mississippi; a county named for Nathan B. Forrest, a Confederate general and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where civil rights demonstrators were beaten and incarcerated on “Bloody Sunday” so that my great grandfather would have the right to vote. I went to Tuskegee University, where my grand uncle learned the electrical trade. I found the farm and family graveyard for white ancestors in Mississippi; along with a road that still bears their name. I stood in the remnants of slave markets where my ancestors could have been sold or bought. I discovered a long abandoned cemetery on the plantation land where my ancestors picked cotton.

Almost every location I have visited has a bitter memory associated with it. Yet, every time I go South, I am reminded of the paradox that the South, as bitter as the memories may be, is the only homeland most African Americans will ever know. It is the place of memories that, through genealogy, will live forever in my heart. This is how I know that I am guided by my ancestors. They want to be remembered and reach out to me at every turn. In almost every town, I haven’t needed a GPS to find the ancestral homestead. At virtually every cemetery, I feel like I’m holding a dowsing rod as I discover graves of ancestors I may not even have been looking for.

As Geni continues its mission to unite the world in one family tree, I hope we can find a way to connect back to our past and forward to our future; in the process, tearing down the racial and social barriers that continue to divide us.

Post written by Sharon Morgan

Sharon Leslie Morgan is a marketing communications consultant and the founder and webmaster for OurBlackAncestry.com, a site dedicated to African American family research. She is co-authoring a book entitled Gather at the Table: Steps Toward a Post-Racial America to be published by Beacon Press in 2012. These blogs express the views and opinions of the author and should not be attributed to Geni.com.

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  • Patriciamoncurethomas

    Sharon…your words speak volumes and I can relate to what you are saying. I so understand and have those feelings, as you do, when I think of my journey in family genealogy. Here I am a woman of almost 65 years and I feel like a baby just beginning to crawl and poke through the genealogy of my Moncure family. My research paths so mirror yours…standing in cemetaries with headstones filled with the names of ancestors I never knew but on whose shoulders I stand. I sense sometimes the presence of those ancestors cheering me on as I connect them to our present and future generations. I am Patricia Moncure Thomas who went to Mississippi for the first time in my life in 2001. I wish  my father had taken me there as a child but I understand now after hours of talking with my father, why he did not desire to return to Mississippi due to the pain he felt and lived as a Mississippi black child.

  • MS

    Nice article. I recently traveled to MS for the 1st time which came about because I traced my family history. It was a wonderful overwhelming experience. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally moved. To be standing on your family’s land… I was moved beyond words. I know my ancestors had a hand in me finally coming home. I can’t wait to go back.