A Search For The Past
When I was younger I didn’t care much for the study of Genealogy. All I knew was my immediate family and on occasion, I was told by my parents that I was related to some person I had never met. When I was younger I didn’t take an interest in finding out who these relatives were. However, time and maturity changed my perspective about tracing my family lineage.
It happened when my brother and I met with my aunt to put names to faces in old photos that were laying around our family home. We inquired about certain people in our family and my aunt blurted out that our Great-Great Grandmother was from Calcutta, India. Floored by this information we asked once more for her to repeat her birthplace and she said with confidence that our ancestor was from the place where Mother Teresa was from. Before this revelation, we were always told that we had Native-American ancestors that were from the ‘Blackfeet’ tribe. This came as a surprise, that I, as an African-American, had roots to the Indian subcontinent.
The information that people from India made it to America in the early 1800’s is not farfetched. People from India worked as indentured servants for the British Empire and were moved from India to Africa and the Caribbean to help build railroads and farmed on countless plantations. To this day, people in the Caribbean can trace their lineage to the Indian subcontinent. So, armed with this new information, I set off on my personal journey of discovery to solve this family mystery.
My spiritual influence was the late great author, Alex Haley. His groundbreaking book then mini-television series ‘Roots’ was the template that inspired many people of African descent in the United States to discover their family lineage for themselves. With Alex Haley as a mentor, I discarded everything I heard from my family and started from the beginning.
I began with the ‘Family Bible’, in which my mother chronicled names and dates of significant family events like births, baptisms, communions, confirmations and deaths. Also, I recalled fondly of the many weekends before All Saints Day (November 1) when my parents took my siblings and I to paint our ancestors graves. For our parents, it was a way of honoring our relatives who passed away and paying respect for the lives they lived and putting a story behind the names on the headstone. I knew that this would be a good starting point.
Since my family were raised in the Catholic faith (like the majority of people living in South Louisiana) I knew that the Church would be a great source for birth and burial records. To confirm the findings discovered from church records, I matched them up with old U.S.census records and verified the time and dates of their birth to when they expired.
So far, I’m two years into actively researching my family tree and it’s difficult. I have encountered pitfalls and misinformation every step of the way. Unlike television shows like PBS’ ‘Roadside Genealogy’ and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr’s. ‘Finding Your Roots’ which employs professionals and experts in the field of genealogy, if you’re doing this research yourself it’s going to take some time.
Doing this research is a painstaking task, however, the payoff is the knowledge that you may discover an ancestor’s story that was long forgotten or a trait that you have that may be attributed to one of your kin. Doing this research is discovering who you are and where you came from. It’s about exploring and telling the stories about your family and the journey that brought you here. As for telling the story of my family, my journey continues.
Here are helpful some resources to get started:
Census Records and General Information
- Church Directory
- Family Burial Sites
- Local Library
- County Clerk Office-City/Parish/County Records