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
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
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
Mealtime!The menu consisted of Blackeyed Peas,
Cabbage, Sweet Potatoes, Chitterlings, Corn Bread & a homemade cake.
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
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.
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 Ancestrydna.com
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
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
Political Page at CNN.com
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.