Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year Family Tradition

How will you celebrate New Years Day?  Well, let me tell you about my family tradition. 

My maternal grandparents – George & Mary Watson migrated from Cleveland, MS.  When relatives migrated from the south they would stay with my grandparents for a little while until they found a place of their own.  

Mary (aka – Bigmama) felt it was very important for the family to gather for the first dinner of the New Year.  It started with just my grandparents and their children.  As my mom & her siblings began to have families of their own the tradition continued & grew.  My parents, uncles, aunts and first cousins would gather at Bigmama’s house.  Our extended family lived close by – great grandmother and a great aunt lived around the corner, other great aunts & uncles lived downstairs and next door and other cousins.  It wasn’t long before the family dinner grew to an annual New Years Dinner at Bigmama’s house.  You could not bring a dish to the dinner.  Bigmama took pride in cooking for everybody.  Since the house was small, we all made sure we got there early to get a seat or be first in line to get food.

When it was time to get started, we all gathered around in a circle, which expanded into two rooms.  We began with a song, “Don’t Forget The Family Prayer”.  The lyrics were – “Don’t forget the family prayer, the Lord would love to meet you there.  When we gather in the evening, please don’t forget the family prayer”.  After the song, Bigmama would lead off in prayer for the family and the rest of us would join in.  Looking back now, those were some powerful prayers.

Mealtime!  The menu consisted of Blackeyed Peas, Cabbage, Sweet Potatoes, Chitterlings, Corn Bread & a homemade cake.
Google Images

After a while Bigmama’s place was too small.  The families had grown tremendously and she was getting older.  Then one day she came to me and said she need to pass the baton and wanted me to carry it on.    So, for the past 15+ years I have hosted New Year’s Dinner.  The menu has changed slightly – no more chitterlings!  

This is one family legacy even though the crowd has dwindled, I enjoy carrying it forward and will one day pass the baton.  But for now, I do it with love and for its tradition and family legacy.

Happy New Year from Mississippi Rooted!

Google Images

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mississippi Rooted 2016 Year in Review

Everyone who knows me understand the passion and love I have for family unity.  Looking back over this year I can’t help but smile at the discoveries and connections made. 

Finding family has and will always be at the top of my list of things to do.  One major discovery for me this year was a DNA discovery, connecting family as a result of adoption.

At the beginning of 2016, it was shaping up to be a promising start.  In February, as a daily practice, I logged into Ancestry DNA to review my relative matches for new discoveries.

One particular night on February 16th, I was watching “Finding Your Roots” and chatting with my gene buddies @BlackProGenLive about the episode.  That night featured Sean Combs and LL Cool J.

During the episode, LL Cool J discovered his maternal grandparents were not his biological grandparents (See clip #2).  His mother would later discover a half sibling (See clips #3 & #4).  

During a commercial break I logged in to Ancestry to review matches for new family discoveries.  To my surprise, I noticed a female DNA match with the initials “A.B.”.  The predicted relationship was 3rd cousins.  As 3rd cousins once removed, her dad and I share the same great grandparents.  I knew I could figure it out because I knew the names of my 2nd great grandparents for my maternal and paternal lines.  This new found relative shared 128 centimorgans across 10 DNA segments.  That is a lot of DNA!  I checked the shared DNA matches to see whom we had in common.  She was a matching relative on my mother’s paternal lines (Shinaul, Berry, & Watson).  Of course I reached out to her!

3rd cousin chart from

Her close friend was managing my newfound cousin’s results.  She only had the name of her mother and the knowledge of having other siblings.  I encouraged her to upload her results to Gedmatch (a site used to analyze your dna results because Ancestry do not have the necessary tools) so I could look closer at the connection.  The next day, I was able to figure out the connection.  A.B. was a direct descendant from my maternal grandfather’s oldest sister.  She has since met her birth parents and other siblings.  My new cousin AB, has not only discovered her family can now trace her paternal biological roots back 7 generations!!

After discovering A.B, I found another cousin from my 23andme results who was also adopted.  To protect the identity, her initials are C.H.  This particular match is from my paternal line on a branch I thought was a brick wall.  After comparing to other relatives who tested and talking with her, she is a descendant of my 2nd great grandmother (Sophie Hancock-Hobson).  Grandma Sophie’s family was right there all along living in Pontotoc County, MS.  C.H. had enough information to assist in furthering the research on the Hancock line.

These were my favorite and most rewarding discoveries!

Fast-forwarding into the 2016 year, I got a chance to meet family on another branch of my paternal (Doss-Hill) lines.   For the first time, I attended the Doss-Hills at the family reunion and shared family our history.

As I am writing this blog piece, two more relatives contacted me on my Doss-Hill line through Ancestry DNA!  One of them is a descendant of my 2nd great grandmother, Josephine Hill’s brother, Berry Hill.  Josephine and Berry Hill were listed with their parents in the Freedmen Bureau Labor Contract serving their former slave owner, Littleton Hill in 1865.  The second person that reached out, W. Mathews, was also from the Doss-Hill connections.  He is a descendant of my great grandmother’s sister branch, Emily (Doss) Hobson-Mathews. 

Freedmen Bureau Labor Contract - St. Louis County Library

Last but certainly not least, it is also bittersweet as our 1st African American President, Barack Obama, will leave the White House in a matter of days.

I was looking for ways to preserve our legacy and remember our ancestors. I decided to take advantage of the first African American President in office and remember my maternal first cousin who died in the Vietnam War – Sammie L Watson, Jr.  He was the only family member to ever go to war and not return home.  Several months ago I ordered the Presidential Memorial Certificate to present along with his photo, as a Christmas gift to his remaining four siblings and his nieces & nephews who never got to meet their uncle.

Sammie Lee Watson, Jr - Presidential Memorial Certificate

What a year!  I am looking forward to more amazing discoveries in 2017!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I Dare Not Silence My Right to Vote

We are a few days away from voting in the most bizarre election of my lifetime.  The country will decide between two candidates to become commander in chief for the United States over the next four years.  I have participated in every general election for the highest office of the country.  This time is even more critical that I get to the polls.

Political Page at

As an African American and 2nd great granddaughter to slaves, I have to follow my ancestor’s lead and continue to exercise my right to vote.

Recently, I read an article on “Race and Voting in the Segregated South”.  In the article, it states, the most basic right of a citizen in a democracy is the right to vote. Without this right, people can be easily ignored and even abused by their government. This, in fact, is what happened to African American citizens living in the South following Civil War Reconstruction. Despite the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteeing the civil rights of black Americans, their right to vote was systematically taken away by white supremacist state governments1. 

My maternal and paternal ancestors were from Bolivar County, MS and Chickasaw County, MS respectively.  I can only imagine what they must have endured as they tried to exercise their right to vote for the first time.  The article shared information on “Voting in Mississippi”.  It stated, with federal troops no longer present to protect the rights of black citizens, white supremacy quickly returned to the old Confederate states. Black voting fell off sharply in most areas because of threats by white employers and violence from the Ku Klux Klan, a ruthless secret organization bent on preserving white supremacy at all costs. 

Because of the 15th Amendment, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” whites could not ban blacks from voting.  So like many legislators, when they want to guarantee a certain outcome, the try and change the laws.  Instead, they wrote into the state constitution a number of voter restrictions making it difficult for most blacks to register to vote. 

First, the new constitution required an annual poll tax, which voters had to pay for two years before the election. This was a difficult economic burden to place on black Mississippians, who made up the poorest part of the state's population. Many simply couldn't pay it.

Hobson_Buggs_Doss_Lipsey Family Members

But the most formidable voting barrier put into the state constitution was the literacy test. It required a person seeking to register to vote to read a section of the state constitution and explain it to the county clerk who processed voter registrations. This clerk, who was always white, decided whether a citizen was literate or not.
The literacy test did not just exclude the 60 percent of voting-age black men (most of them ex-slaves) who could not read. It excluded almost all black men, because the clerk would select complicated technical passages for them to interpret. By contrast, the clerk would pass whites by picking simple sentences in the state constitution for them to explain.

During this time in Chickasaw County, MS where my paternal families are from, the Klan was evolved into a political tool to terrorize blacks in an attempt to prevent them from voting.   According to the history of Chickasaw County, MS, most cases of violence from the Klan occurred during election time2.   In some instances, employment was refused to blacks in Chickasaw county who voted. 

In the midst of it all, intimidation didn’t prevent my 2nd great grandfathers from registering to vote.  During one of my research visits to Chickasaw County, MS, I reviewed the voter registration information and was ecstatic to see the names of my ancestors.

Houlka, Mississippi - Voter Registration for Years 1886 & 1887

Voter Log - August 13th & 14th, 1886

Last line --  2nd Great Grandfather - Ephraim Bugg - August 14, 1886

3rd from the bottom --  2nd Great Grandfather Michael E. Hobson, Sr - August 14, 1886

4th from the top --  2nd Great Grandfather William Doss - August 14, 1886

3rd Great Grandfather --  Miles Hill - August 14th, 1886

Great Uncle/2nd Great Grandfather -- Robert Bugg Sr - October 26, 1887; Ancestor - Ellison Hobson, Sr
The environment and conditions in which my ancestors lived, the threat of persecution during post Civil War Reconstruction, yet they participated in voting.  I dare not give my vote away. 

Every African American born in this country is standing on the shoulders of giants who persevered to make sure we are here today.  We owe it to their sacrifices and must exercise the right to have our voices heard. 

(1)          Race and Voting in the Segregated South -
(2)          Chickasaw County History, Volume 1

Monday, May 30, 2016

Tell Our Story

2nd great grandparents born into slavery
I remember watching Roots as a teenager when it aired in 1977.  It was hard watching the series, seeing the cruelty of an institution designed to strip away the culture, dignity and identity of Africans for selfish gain.  Knowing my ancestors were trapped in this institution made it even more painful.  I vividly remember going to school each day angry with those who looked like the people that enslaved my family.

Image from original roots

Like other historians, it peaked my interest in wanting to understand where I came from.  As a teenager, I would sit and ask my grandmothers, parents and great aunts questions about the family.

As a youth, each summer my dad would take us back to his hometown in Chickasaw County, MS to visit relatives.  At the time I was too young to appreciate the experience.  We stayed at my great uncle and aunt’s home, built by them – no air conditioner or indoor plumbing.  We had to go out back to the outhouse to use the restroom.  We took a bath in a huge tin tub in the kitchen.  Each morning I remember waking up early to help my uncle feed the hogs and get eggs from the chicken coup. 

Great uncle's farm where I spent summers

Going to town was a big deal just to see something other than the farm.

Houlka, Mississippi - Post Office

As I got older my curiosity of family intensified.  I took a class in college on African American studies.  Immersing into reading and writing papers on my culture, my anger toward a system that trapped my family began to change.  The anger was channeled to a different purpose.  The focus changed to wanting to know even more about my family because the lives of those who came before me mattered and share their stories.

Chosen for such a time as this.
On a prayer call one evening years ago I made my request known.  When it was my turn to state my request, I said, “I desire to know what I am called to do”.  The reply from one of the senior members on the call, “Linda, your ministry is to your family”.  Through my narrow lens, I didn’t see the bigger picture.  As time passed, it became clearer.  Yes, I had a responsibility to my immediate family but it was also to the extended family.  You have to know where you been to understand where you’re going.

We are an intricate and fleshly fine-tuning of divine wisdom – Psalm 8:5.  Like the late Alex Haley, I too stand on the shoulders of giants.  Our ancestors persevered so that we could be here today to tell their stories, learn from it and share it with future generations.

With millions of viewers, I will be tuned in to watch “Roots Reimagined” with my family, but this time with a fresh set of eyes and head held high because I descended from greatness.  This time will be used as a teaching moment with my children so they will understand the importance of remembering their heritage.

Grandma Josephine - Freedmen Bureau Labor Contract
In honor of my enslaved ancestors, I dedicate this day to partnering with other fellow historians and genealogists to help complete the last 15% of Freedmen Bureau Records that will enable us to further our research and tell their stories.