So, I'm a sucker for free subscriptions. Ancestry.com offered a two week free subscription for genealogical research, and I totally fell for it. I try to avoid these whenever possible. I always give my information, and then forget to cancel before the two weeks are up and spend money on something I don't want. It happened again, except this time, I was pleasantly surprised. I started to learn about both sides of my family, and really delved into some harsh history. The experience of researching my mother and father's side of the family was a difference of night and day. It felt special to me, since I don't know my father at all and have never met him. I felt though, that retracing my ancestor's steps taught me something about myself. It also taught me about the stark differences between people that existed not too long ago relative to the span of human history.
My father is White and my mother is Black. My mother raised me, and my father basically decided he didn't want me and wanted to have nothing to do with me. I know my father's brothers (two of them). I met them last year off of Facebook, but the consensus is that my father doesn't want to meet and my uncles are not going to push him. I also moved past needing to meet someone that doesn't care about me, but I still wanted to know more about his side of the family. So, I started digging.
Researching my father's side of the family was not hard. In fact, I hardly felt like I did the research because there already was a lot of the family tree already there. I actually met my second cousin four times removed online over a internet bulletin board and we exchanged photos and information on the tree. She had tons of photos and marriage records going back to the village my family came from: Hardervijk, Netherlands. They got on boats, between 1870 and 1905 and journeyed to Holland, Michigan. I joked with my uncle that they chose Holland, not for the natural ports and fertile land, but to be sure that they settled on the right side of Eight Mile :) Little Michigan humor there. Without giving away too much about myself, I am part of the Hop family. We were the party people, the guys that brewed the beer. We lived in a walled town that was part of the Hanseatic league, until we got wind of a great deal in Michigan, and jumped ship so to speak.
Now, let's contrast this with my mother's side of the family, who is African American. Well, finding out this part of the tree was a nightmare. My father's parents are still alive, but my mother's parent's both passed away before I was born. My grandfather worked and drank himself to death (he worked in a steel mill in Detroit) and my grandmother had a brain tumor for 16 years before she finally succumbed to it two years before I was born. My mother barely knew my grandfather when he died when she was 18. My grandmother raised seven children by herself, many of them fathered by different husbands who either left or died.
My aunts and uncles didn't know much either. They just knew my grandfather's name, but not my great grandparents. They knew our roots go back to Crawfordville, Georgia, but beyond that, no one knew. Many of my great aunts and uncles have also passed, and I have tons of cousins, but my mother was forbidden to communicate with many of her half brothers and sisters. Everyone on this side of the family died early. They were educated people. My great aunt and grandmother were taught by charitable, militant Catholic nuns who decided Black people should have educations, even if they were dirt poor. Yet, they worked menial jobs their whole lives. My grandmother spent most of her life as a maid. Let's just say that my mother never watched "The Help." It hit too close to home. My grandparents labored for 14 hours a day on average, and their health failed. My mother's side of the family was a black box. It was frustrating to say the least. I could trace the Hop's back to the 1620s, but the Evans and the Youngs? I got just one generation back, and that's it.
Until I met the federal census.
With some detective work and the Social Security Death Index (thank you FDR), I found my grandfather's SS # and I got to find my ancestors, all the way up to my great x 3 grandfather. It was exhilarating to say the least. I knew their residences, and was able to go back all the way to Talofierra, Gerogia where my great great great grandfather lived. That part of the family stayed in Georgia until around the Great Depression when they moved North. My great grandfather died shortly after the move. Once I got this far back, I found out that they had many children...but many didn't survive. It was a harsh life as a "farm laborer."
Even worse, once I got to 1870 I hit a wall. Was my grandmother's great grandfather a slave? Was he free? If he was a slave, was he a slave of FP Evans, who owned a ton of slaves in the area? Did they adopt his name? Who would he be in the slave manifest? I could only look at ages and general descriptions in those manifests. What about the enlistment papers with his name on it, saying he fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union? Was that Peter Evans, my great x 3 grandfather, or was that someone else? How could I tell with no photographs and no anecdotal evidence? What about my grandfather's family? I still hadn't found out much about them before they came to Michigan from Georgia
I am still going to persevere and figure out this side of the family. There has to be some clue out there that will let me know my grandfather's owner. I also still need to figure out some of my great grandmother's maiden names. As for the Hops, I got to see what my great grandfather looked like, as well as some great aunts and uncles. That side of the family has no idea I exist. I am a family secret that only my two uncles know about. To be honest, I don't know why I am so into this. I have no reason to want to delve into past pain or to know more about the Hop family, but I just want to feel a connection to something. I want to feel like I really know myself. I think I will.