Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Collaborative Genealogy

For the past year, I have been collaborating with several DNA cousins with roots in North Carolina. We are 10 descendants of slaveholders and the people they enslaved who have come together via email and social media to try to solve mysteries and find lost branches of our family trees. We call ourselves the Torrence Cousins because we all have connections to that North Carolina family.

In April I met two of my Torrence cousins - Helen Mickens (left) and Judith Hughes (right) - at North Carolina's State Library and the State Archives in Raleigh. They were there for Tar Heel Discoveries, a weeklong workshop for genealogists. I dropped in for a day so I could meet them in person since they both live in the Midwest. 

I highly recommend the Tar Heels Discoveries workshop and plan to go back. The workshop includes a one-on-one consultation with professional genealogists and tours of the library and archives, including the vault where the state charter and other rare and priceless documents are stored.

I also highly recommend collaboration. For years genealogy was a solitary hobby for me. Now I recognize how important it is to get to know other descendants of my ancestors, and the relatives who are descendants of the people who enslaved them. If you find cousins who are open to this idea, embrace them, and get to work -- together. It has been a life-changing experience for me, and has enriched my understanding of the lives of my ancestors.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Miss Pauline

Pauline Cunningham was my Grandma Madie's best friend. When Miss Pauline and my grandmother were little girls growing up in Lancaster, S.C., my grandmother said they would hide under the front porch and listen to grown folks' conversations.

Miss Pauline spent most of her adult life in Washington, D.C., where my military father was stationed for three years. I attended middle school and a year of high school there.

During those years, we visited Miss Pauline several times. I remember her home was full of antiques, and my little sister and I loved looking at her old Jet and Ebony magazines stashed under her coffee table.

While living in D.C., we visited three or four other families that had roots in Lancaster County, S.C. All of these people were our people, although at the time I didn't understand why they all lived there.

Since then, I've learned through genealogy research and DNA matches that Washington, D.C., was one of the northern destination cities for many Lancaster, S.C., families during the Great Migration of African-Americans from the early 1900s through the early 1970s. Buffalo, N.Y., was another destination, and Cleveland, Ohio, and there were other places.

Growing up, I always considered the Carolinas as home, but by following the paths of my ancestors' involuntary movement through slavery and their voluntary migrations through freedom, I've come to realize that I have to look beyond the Carolinas to find my roots.