I enjoy writing, especially fiction. My first novel has won me accolades and even an award. My second novel is finished and in the process of getting published. I’m working on my third novel while researching the fourth one. My fourth novel is going to be my biggest challenge because it involves my family. It will be a historical fiction novel based on my great-grandfather who immigrated to this country and my great-grandmother.
My primary source for my book has come from my aunt Vivian. She is 93 years old and has a sharper mind than any of the fools running around Austin with their pants saggin’ to the ground. Of course remembering things from 80-90 years ago is sometimes difficult for her. But her memories will be the basic foundation for the book.
I was speaking with a friend the other day and she told me the Oak Pak Library had the genealogy websites online for free. So I went there last week in the early evening. I tried keying in my family name and where my grandfather and mother were born. Although I got about 50 names back, none of them were the ones I needed. I then proceeded to do an advance search where I tried just the family last name and the homeland of my grandfather. Three names appeared in the 1880 census and, yes, one of them belonged to my great grandfather.
I can’t even begin to express the excitement and awe that I experienced in being able to find “my people” on a census form from more than 100 years ago. The top lines of the census had faded so that reading those names were difficult. But scrolling down the page, almost towards the bottom, there they were – my great-grandfather, great-grandmother, great aunt and great uncle. Tears swelled in my eyes as I said to myself, “Those are my people. My blood. The people who lived so that I could live.”
It was a very emotional moment for me. I then found my great-grandmother on several other census years. I had always been under the impression that my great-grandmother was deceased before my mother was born. But a search using a different genealogy program found that she was still alive and kicking in the 1930s. Longevity does have its purpose.
Now the census isn’t really full of a lot of information about the person. But add in what you know of family history and what you can assume and it stills makes for interesting reading. I learned that my grandmother although born when slavery was in effect, was probably not born a slave. Her parents having been born in Kentucky and Virginia means that they travelled in order to end up in Louisiana. My great-grandmother never learned to read or write, but her children did. They went to school and were even listed at being “at school” on the census form.
One year the census wanted to know how many children a woman had had and how many were still living. My great-grandmother had nine children of which six lived. Several of her sons never made it on any census as being part of the family. My aunt says that it was probably due to the census takers being white and most black people didn’t want to talk with white people and tell them the truth. I found the census where my aunt was just under 2 years old. Seeing her own name brought back memories of her siblings who have all had their homegoings. Yet my aunt talked about them and a light shone in her eyes as she recalled their days as children and the adventures they had. She also recalls how much her mother and grandmother would whip children for any infraction. In those days, children weren’t allowed in adult conversations and many of the family history my aunt learned was gleamed from others later on in life.
I had originally feared doing a genealogy search because the task seemed so daunting. But computer technology and time and patience is all going to pay off so that my book will be factual, but more than that entertaining. As we start off this month of February, which is when we focus on Black History, take the time to research your own family’s history. It can truly be revealing.