Racism: Insert Cash Here


Protesters assemble in Baltimore after the Death of Freddie Gray (2015)                  Source: Associated Press via. abc7news.com (San Francisco Affiliate)

It’s been 478 days since the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. It was the weekend of my 25th Birthday, and for the second time in my life, since the execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, I knew what it was like to live in 1968. I watched, as the death of a young man no older than me at the time, spurred a wave of protest, some of which devolved into chaos. An explosion of deep-seated racial tensions met its climax in a city where 3 out of 5 of its residents were African-American.

This morning, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division released its “Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department,” a 163 page report in which it outlines its case that “the [Baltimore Police Department] engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitution or federal law…using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans”

What does that mean for you? We just made a deposit in racism’s pay-pal. 

The report cites a range of misgivings by the police department in Baltimore including the escalation of power and arrests of individuals who have not been suspected of a crime, excessive use of physical force and firearms and numerous documented cases of verbalized prejudices, largely targeted at the African-American community.

We’ve heard this story before. The justice department, just last March released a detailed investigation in which it found that officers in Ferguson, Missouri were “Conducting stops without reasonable suspicion, and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment”

This problem is not unique to Baltimore. It is not unique to urban centers. Wherever people of color are in the United States, there is a risk of prejudiced thoughts and biased behavior, leading to an abuse of power.

So…what have we learned?

  1. We’re all a part of La Familia

The DOJ team determined that the “constitutional violations described in our findings… result in part from critical deficiencies in the Baltimore Police Departments’ systems to train, equip supervise, and hold officers accountable and to build relationships with the Baltimore community


That’s what the  Black Lives Matter movement has been saying for months…we need more involvement in the community. According to a 2014 report, young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than their White counterparts. This is what provoked Earldreka White, a woman who was harassed by police in Houston to call 911 out of fear for her life.

Even president Obama noted in his open letter to Police Officers last month, “When you see civilians at risk, you don’t see them as strangers. You see them as your own family.”

Police officers need to start living the President’s truth, viewing the community as family; and like any relationship, this is fostered through training and spending time in the community they serve. Police in places like Boston have the right idea. They spent $89,000 on an ice cream truck that delivers treats to neighborhood children.

  1. “Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth” should only be reserved for The ROCK

A few days ago I watched the video of the traffic stop that ultimately led to the death of Korryn Gaines, another Baltimore resident who was hit by police fired bullets that killed her and wounded her 5-year-old son. In the video, the officer pulls Gaines over asking for her license and registration without providing a reason for the stop.

The Justice Department identified additional cases like this, where officers instigated a controversy without any basis to do such. One example can be found in the cases of a practice called “clearing a corner” that involves dispersing of people who are lawfully congregated with little or no suspicion of crime.

“One officer…while responding to a call about a gang fight, stopped to engage an African-American man and his four-year-old who were sitting on a fence by a playground where the young boy had been playing. The officer told them that they ‘couldn’t just stand around’ and ‘needed to move.’ A second officer, after explaining to his supervisor that he had no legal basis to clear a corner, was told to “make something up.”

In 2012, the City of Baltimore settled out of court for $95,000 in an incident where they criminalized an 87-year-old Black woman.

“She was shoved against the wall after she refused to allow an officer to enter her basement to conduct a warrantless search. After shoving the woman to the floor, the officer allegedly stood over her and said ‘Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up’”

  1. You don’t always have to send the 5-0, we have other civil servants, too

If there’s a fire at your house, you call 9-11 and the dispatcher will route you to the fire department. If you are having a heart attack, you are sent an ambulance and an EMT. In Baltimore, police officers are called to help escort those with mental disabilities to the hospital. We don’t have to look that far back in the past for another example of where this went wrong. In March of 2015 in Dallas, a Schizophrenic man was shot and killed by police officers after his mother reported to 9-1-1 that she needed help during one of his episodic breaks.

As the Baltimore report describes “Frequently, these individuals have committed no crime and present no significant threat to officers or other members of the public….Baltimore Police Officers resort to using unreasonable force if individuals fail to comply with their commands.”

A separate issue needs a specific and more clam response. Which leads to the next point…

  1. This is not Grand Theft Auto, this is real life

Life is nothing like Grand Theft Auto. You can’t steal a car and lead cops on a high-speed chase to a neighborhood and hide for a minute and re-spawn with a clean criminal record. But cops need to know they can’t really do the high speed chase part either and expect no one to get hurt.

This is text taken literally from the Baltimore report.

“Baltimore Police Department’s Discharges of Firearms at Moving Vehicles Are Highly Dangerous, Ineffective and May Be Constitutionally Impermissible.”

Yes, you read that right. The Police in Baltimore are shooting at moving cars.

And again, a recent example can be found in an 18 year old kid, Paul O’Neal who was murdered by police, after a round of officers shot at a moving car he allegedly stole. This was in Dallas. Common practices.

The justice department found that in pursuits like this “At that point, the vehicle is no longer posed a serious threat to the officers, and if it posed a threat to others, shooting at it likely increased that threat rather than eliminating it”

As if a kid driving high-speed in a stolen car isn’t dangerous enough, you have an officer driving just as fast behind him firing a deadly weapon. Sounds like the plot for a new fast and furious movie..and I’m not buying a ticket.

  1. All Black people live in the Hood, right?

Bias is weaved into our everyday life as Americans. I can regale you with countless tales in which my race or where I lived produced assumptions about my character. This was revealed to me the time a kid from the suburbs of Central Jersey asked me whether I lived scared every day that the people in Newark who carried AK-47’s around on their backs would kill me. Or the other countless times at predominately White college parties that I would be asked to “spit a verse.” My cousins will proudly tell you that neither rapping nor dancing are my forte.

Racial bias does not belong in policing, and most certainly causes undue harm to its victims.

As one man in the Baltimore report alleged “while walking in April 2015, officers stopped him, accused him of looting and called him a ‘low life nigger’”

The continued report found that “Baltimore Police Department supervisors repeatedly fail to seek evidence that could corroborate bias allegations and result in officer discipline.”

This is the true root of the problem. Officers who commit these acts are not held accountable for what they do, which in turn keeps the behavior under the radar. This is also a result of the lack of officer supervision and what the investigation describes as “Early Intervention Systems” that help in curbing problematic behavior before things get out of hand. Police are watching us, but who is watching the police?

  1. What you think you too good for us now?

So Imagine you’re a high school basketball coach and you have this really good player. He’s 6’ 7’’, he can dunk, and has really good ball handle. Then all of a sudden, he leaves your team for an opportunity at a fancy private school up the road. Your team loses morale, because you sucked in the first place and didn’t want to admit that he was basically holding the team down from the start.

This is also what happens in life. Flight from predominately black, predominately urban areas has not just been a phenomenon in housing and education it also affects the quality of police officers.

As the Baltimore study found,

“We heard from officers, supervisors and command staff that many officers join the Baltimore Police Department to gain experience in a high-activity environment, and after three to five years, leave the department for less-demanding and higher paid-positions with neighboring agencies”

Essentially, you’re losing some of the best and the brightest for opportunities that they deem more fruitful. They are literally using their time as cadets as an internship.

So What Now?

If you don’t take away any other lesson from this Baltimore investigation, know this….The problems are widespread, and quite systemic in nature.

So what do we do about it? I want to hear your responses! Leave a comment below or write us on Twitter or Instagram.

Oh yeah, and remember…you paid for it.

Yes, Shad Moss, Your Ancestors Are Indeed Black

Okay, so I’ll be honest…I’ve always been a fan of Bow Wow. One of the first albums I ever owned was his 2001 EP “Doggy Bag,” which I would have on repeat in my CD-player in Middle School (along with Ludacris’ “Word of Mouf” and Usher’s classic, “8701”). Since he is only 3 years older than I am, I felt a sort of kinship; as much as you can admire the plight of celebrity through a TV camera.

Shad Moss with his daughter Shai. Source: http://d236bkdxj385sg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/bow-wow-1.jpg

Then reality set in. Not as painful as the day I first saw Dr. Ben Carson on FOX NEWS, but as cringe-worthy as that time Raven Symoné told Oprah that she was not African American.

This week, Bow Wow, now identifiable by his government name, Shad Moss posted this on twitter:

Source: Twitter.com (@smoss account) via. http://hiphopwired.com/2016/07/28/bow-wow-posts-pic-of-his-estranged-dad-to-prove-hes-mixed/

“Man i believe what the eyes see. I’m mixed. I don’t know what my ancestors was doing…I’m saying my Moss side of family is NOT BLACK. Heritage Different”

Moss, in response to his feelings on Civil liberties and the Black Lives Matter Movement claimed that he did not feel a complete connection to the struggle of people of color because his Moss family in Particular was “NOT BLACK”. He went on to post this picture of his father Alfonso Preston Moss, highlighting his “Cuban” and “Native” looking features. 


As a genealogist, I had to investigate this claim further. I decided to tackle his father’s lineage, and discover the origin of Shad Moss’s surname.

Shad Gregory Moss was born on March 9, 1987 in Columbus Ohio. His father, Alfonso Preston Moss was born in Ohio in the 1960’s as per public records. Although probably incorrectly identified by some websites as Moss’s paternal grandparents, his paternal great-grandparents are likely Frank Pierce Moss (1909-1972) and Ernestine Coggins Moss (1909-2007) both of his birthplace, Columbus, Ohio. I connected the dots after finding names of family members in Ernestine’s obituary

Moss’s own family history is just the reason why he should be able to appreciate the efforts of of our modern Black activists and embrace his African Heritage. 

Please turn your attention to: 

Exhibit A: Shad Moss’s Great Grandparents were a part of the Great Migration from the segregated South. 

Frank (aka Pierce) and Ernestine were definitely people of color. We can find them together in the City Directories as early as 1945 while Frank worked as laborer in Columbus. 

Columbus, Ohio City Directory (1945); Source: Ancestry.com

Frank’s movement from his native Georgia to Ohio was a cry for civil liberties, itself. While African Americans left the South in droves in the mid 1900’s to find better working conditions, quite a few of them left to escape the confines of de jure segregation. Frank’s family was from Hancock County, GA. This was a county that did not legally end school segregation until 1965, and in which White citizens created their own private school just to avoid having to follow the law once it was passed. In essence, Shad Moss’s very birth in Columbus is a direct result of Civil resistance. 

Exhibit B: Shad Moss’s 2nd great grandfather could neither read or write 

Tracing Frank Pierce’s family back to Georgia was tough with the available records online, but given the naming patterns in the family, I am fairly certain that he is the son of Jack Moss and Annie Moss  of Hancock and neighboring Morgan county, GA. Here is the census record for 1920 listing “Pierce” with his siblings and parents.

1920 Census: District 0098, Fairplay, Morgan County, GA

Moss, Jack (40)
Annie (37)
Susie (13)
Pierce (11)
William (6)
Alfonso (4)
Eddie Mae (3)
Lucy Mae (1 yr, 6 mos)

You will notice the last two columns across from Jack’s name, which are labeled “Can Read” and “Can Write” are both marked “No.” This proves that Jack, even well into the 1920’s had not yet learned to read or write. Before the Civil War, it was illegal for people of color to do either due to their enslaved status, and even 60 years later, the children of those formerly enslaved often did not attend formal schooling to do such.

Exhibit C: Shad Moss’s 2nd great grandmother was buried by the “Colored Undertaker,” after her untimely death. 

One of the complications of Black genealogy in the South is dealing with historically segregated communities. People of color had their own churches, schools and even cemeteries. Yes, even in death, Jim Crow pushed to keep communities separate and unequal. When Annie Moss died in 1922, her body was put under the oversight of the “colored undertaker.”

Annie Moss Death (1922, GA). Source: GA State Archives, Virtual Vault

Annie Moss passed away as a tenant farmer: a sharecropper. Her cause of death? “Pellagra”: and old school term for a vitamin deficiency that was purported to be the underlying cause of “mental confusion” The secondary contribution was listed as “insanity.” It’s hard to say whether Annie, who was no more than 40 years old at this point, had developed a mental illness contributory to her death. Unfortunately the plague of racism had also seeped into medicine and Science as well. In the antebellum era, Doctors would sometimes use Black women for medical experimentation because of their easy access to their bodies. Other’s held deep set notions about people of color that they were somewhat “inferior because of a difference in biology. We soon discovered that none of this was true.  Although more information is needed about Annie’s case, we can assume that some in her case may not have received the best treatment.


Exhibit E: Possibly Born as Slaves, Shad Moss’s 3rd Great Grandparents were in the first generation to be married legally


As listed in her death certificate, Annie’s surname was Moss as well. Her parents were Crawford “Croff’ Moss and his wife, Susie Reynolds. Crawford and Susie were married just 14 years after the Civil War. Only the 14th year in this country that Black people could legally be betrothed. Both of them could have likely been born enslaved, themselves.


Crawford Moss + Susie Reynolds Marriage (1879); Source: Ancestry.com 


After finding Crawford and Susie’s marriage certificate in Hancock County, GA, I traced the Moss name back one more generation to Shad Moss’s 4th great grandparents Crawford Moss and Fannie Moss. Here they are in the 1870 census, the first enumeration of African Americans after Emancipation.


1870 Census: Mayfield, District 111-112, Hancock County, GA 


Moss Crawford (45) 

Fannie (40)

Ann (17)

Clark (14)

Crawford (10)

Nellie (6)

Louisa (2) (Not Shown)


Exhibit F: Were Shad Moss’s “NOT BLACK” ancestors former slaves? 

There may be some burgeoning proof that at least Fannie Moss may have been enslaved by the local Moss family. When Crawford Moss Jr. died in 1937, his death certificate listed birthplaces for his parents. Although the origin of Crawford is not know, Fannie is reported as being born in Hancock County.

Crawford Moss Death (1931), Source: GA State Archives via Ancestry.com


When looking around Hancock county, there are two slave-holders reported with the Moss surname. One in particular was William R. Moss. William died in the late 1850’s, leaving a reasonable lot of enslaved men and women to his nieces and nephews.

Except from Will of William Moss (Hancock County, GA Wills and Administration Records, Book R, pg. 642)


“I give and bequeath to Mary Whaley, my niece, the following negroes: Ellick, Ebenezer, Little Claiborne, Francis and Child, and Patsy” 

Could “Francis” and her child be Fannie Moss, the mother of Crawford? It’s possible, although further research must be done for a more confident confirmation.

William Moss’s farm is also one of the few to be chronicled in the slave narratives, a project of Frederick D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, set up into interview survivors of slavery.

One such interviewee was Claiborne Moss.

Claiborne Moss WPA Interview (1938) (81 Years Old, Resident of Little Rock, AK)


Claiborne described how he was the youngest of 5 children, and that most of his family was split up at the time of Moss’s death. His parents lived on different plantations. Although Bill Moss is described as  “good master,” there are still elements of subjugation and power evident in Claiborne’s story.

“Moss sold out and went to Texas and all his slaves went walking while he was on the train.”

He also describes how in Moss’s migration, he left both of Claiborne’s parents with Mr. Beck just to “keep the family together.”

….A family that he owned….

So I get it…

We are nearly 150 years removed from the horrors of slavery, and half a century gone from the days of legal segregation. I understand growing up in a position of privilege, where you wanted for little. Yet, those sacrifices cannot go unacknowledged, and saying that your family is indeed NOT BLACK is a slap in the face to your ancestors Mr. Moss, who are the embodiment of the a true Black American story.


Afterthoughts: I wrote this article in response to an event, and used the genealogical and historical sources, and public records available to me at the time. I invite other researchers and those with additional information to challenge any of the aforementioned points presented on its clarity, verification of facts, or to provide additional commentary.

We Should Be Scared for Our Lives: My Personal Account of Racism in the Pre-Trump Era

It’s 2016.
Not 1866: the time of a waning war to defend an economic system of human property and subjugation.
Not 1966: during a period of protest for basic inalienable liberties for women and people of color in this country.
Things should have changed significantly by 2016…right?
Last night, Hilary Clinton became the first woman to secure a major party nomination for President of the United States, yet, in the same week we had statements coming from the other leading candidate, that would make you think we were in a time warp.
“That’s my African-American, isn’t he great?”
Donald Trump may have not seen the error in his statement (or even if he did, he probably didn’t care). Trumps rallies as of late have been notorious for singling out people of color, and even leading towards physical violence.
This is what racism looks like in 2016, and it is nothing new.
During my freshman year at Temple in 2008, I campaigned for then senator Obama in Philadelphia. After reading both of his books and watching his speech at the Democratic National Convention that summer, I was enthused. A man of African descent, raised by a single mother, who got shape-ups at the local barbershop, and had a degree from Harvard law had a real shot at becoming President of the United States. During new student orientation in July, I was approached by a group on Campus about canvassing opportunities in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown, and I quickly signed on.
Fishtown in Philadelphia near Montgomery Ave.
Fishtown is a traditionally Irish Catholic/German neighborhood just east of Temple on the Delaware River. At the precinct, I think I was only one of two African Americans. Our objective was to go door to door and inform residents about the upcoming elections, and get a gauge for their political leanings.
One particular residence was striking. It was a typical Philadelphia row home, with a brick stone face with a confederate flag perched in the window. To my advantage, I was alternating houses with the other volunteers, so this was not my stop.
Example of Row homes in Philadelphia
The other guy knocked, and I could see from the corner of my eye a man answer the door. He had a beard that was white like snow, but with specks of gray randomly dispersed. As I moved on to the next house, I could only hear murmurs of what the man said, but I heard the door slam abruptly. I talked to the other volunteer and he told me that the man had shut the door in his face, claiming that he would never vote for a Black man for president of the United States.
I felt a rumble in the bottom of my stomach. Had it been me who answered the door instead, would I have faced the same fate? Was I in danger because of the color of my own skin?
That was 2008. I endured the same fear that my ancestors had in the past that the color of our skin was intricately tied to our “life chances.” This is not only true of the threat of physical violence, but more commonly the impedance of progress in academia and the workplace.
As a science major in college and in my current career, I am keenly aware of the lack of diversity in the field, particular with African Americans. Although I know multiple people who have succeeded and gone to finish Medical, Pharmacy school and research careers, I watched more drop Chemistry and Biology courses in the wake of difficulty. For one chemistry course that I received an A in, one of my White professors remarked to me that it was an “Amazing Performance,” “Especially for an African American.” He went on to describe that the majority of Black Students in his classes could not handle the rigor of an Organic Chemistry Course.
My professor was unafraid to wear bias, likely because he did not realize it existed. Yet, I have to consider that if someone in his position has the ability to harbor feelings about whole groups of people like this, could that have been contributing to the falling off of Black students from my academic path.
This is why Donald Trump’s words are dangerous. He claims to “own” someone of a particular race, just in order to increase political credibility, and at the same time makes generalizations about whole populations. And that is scary when this person has the ability to affect our “life chances”.


Former Secretary Clinton has a handful in the coming months, and I hope that her campaign is prepared to tackle the negative impact of Trumps campaign.
If not, as people of color, we should be scared for our lives.

In Defense of the New ROOTS

Until recently, I was never fond of “slave stories.” As an African American Studies major in college, I purposely shied away from taking any courses focused on Slavery or captivity until my very last semester. It was not that I was at all apathetic to the cause and the toils of our ancestors, I just felt that I already knew the story, in full.
I was completely wrong.
This week, rapper Snoop Dogg released a video, calling for audiences to boycott the new 2016 rendition of the miniseries ROOTS, Alex Haley’s timeless generation spanning story of his direct ancestor Kunta Kinte and the plight of his descendants in the United States.
Scenes from the ROOTS Minieseries (2016) (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3444213/Kunta-Kinte-fights-freedom-explosive-star-studded-trailer-remake-hit-1977-miniseries-Roots.html)
Snoop’s reasoning, (like mine) was that the historical representation of African Americans in the media have erred on the side of subservient and submissive. 
As Snoop describes in his video, “I don’t understand America. They just want to keep showing the abuse that we took hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”
While it may be painful to endure the pain of our ancestors, there is one thing that Snoop Dogg is missing, that some viewers may catch upon critical review: ROOTS is not about abuse, but rather about resistance.
The iconic scene in ROOTS repeated and parodied in multiple pop culture references (like Family Guy and Chappelle’s Show), involves the whipping of Kunta Kinte and the coercion by his White overseer to adopt an English given name, Toby. The focus on this scene quintessentially captures the pain of ROOTS, but misses the point of Haley’s story.
Kunta Kinte’s real legacy is embodied in the relationship with his daughter, Kizzy. Kunta taught Kizzy full phrases in his native tongue, instructed her on paddling a canoe upstream, and prompted her quick escape on horseback. We may surmise that although his civil rights had been compromised, there were some elements of his life from Africa that Kunta Kinte was able to hold on to upon his capture and delivery to the New World. More importantly, he gave her the best gift that could have been given to a first generation African American in the 1800’s: An identity.
Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby), and his daughter Kizzy (Emily Crutchfield)
This theme of this emerging, resistant identity is carried throughout both iterations of the ROOTS tale. The names of Kunta Kinte, his family members, his birthplace and connection to the Mandinke people of West Africa are solid vestiges in Alex Haley’s family and now have found their way into a new Generation of American Popular Culture.
That brings to light the second criticism that has been applied to the saga: Why do we need a new ROOTS?
The 2016 remake of the 1977 series is on its surface more not very different from the first. The characters and story-line remain for the most part unchanged. The special effects and costume design has advanced only slightly in the last 40 years, and much of dialog is standard. Nevertheless, I noticed a slightly more engaging note about this new series: the characters are a lot more believable.
British Actor Malachi Kirby who is of Jamaican descent, is definitely more believable as a Mandike warrior. His accent, and development of broken English is a lot easier to follow than the original Middle American English spoken by the first Kunta Kinte, Levar Burton (of Reading Rainbow fame). This Kunta Kinte also looks the part. His costumes during the scenes shot in historical ‘Africa,’ are brilliant robes that seem characteristic of the Islamic men from the Gambia region.
Then there’s the larger cultural implication. There exists a group of brand new viewers (and likely a lot of younger people like myself who weren’t around for the first ROOTS in 1977), that have yet to be exposed to the stories being told in roots.
Finally, as a genealogist, and an African American genealogist at that….we need our stories TOLD! I don’t mean this as a cliché. In order to research my own history, I need the collaborative effort of the stories of other people of color in my family, and from my ancestral homes to participate in the work of creating stories. From talking to other genealogists over the years, quite a few of them cite ROOTS as their springboard, their inspiration to actually find their own Kunta Kinte. In 2016, that impetus also involves DNA testing (which is being given away as a prize by the HISTORY Channel in part of the promotion of thenew ROOTS series.)

With those two tools, genealogy and DNA testing, I’m sure that we can continue to help bridge the gap for thousands of African Americans living here in the United States, and abroad. But we need stories like ROOTs to continue to inspire us. 

The Mystery of "May"

Being a “May” in the month of May was always tough. I would dread this time of year as a kid, because my classmates thought it opportune for clever (or not so clever) puns using my last name. 
“Anthony May is your birthday in May?” 
“Anthony May I borrow a pencil?” 
“Anthony May I please use the restroom?”
Nonetheless, I want to start off the first week of May explaining how I solved the mystery of the origin of my 2nd great grandfather, Stephen Joseph May (b. 1884)
Bear with me, I am descended from a long line of Stephen Joseph May’s so to distinguish them, I will be putting their birth dates next to their names. 

Stephen Joseph May (1935-1993)

Let me start by re-introducing my maternal grandfather, also named Stephen Joseph May (b. 1935). He was born in Mount Vernon, NY, a city a few miles from the northern border of the Bronx. Stephen worked as a merchant marine, a peacetime annexation to the Navy, and traveled many places by sea. 

Stephen Joseph May (1935-1993)
My grandfather inherited his name from his father,  Stephen Joseph May (b. 1911). Stephen can be seen here in the 1920 census with his family in Philadelphia. 
1920 US Federal Census: Philadelphia Ward 20, Philadelphia, PA
May, Stephen (36)
Hellen (39)
Gatsie (13)
Helen (11)
Stephen (8)
Although they lived in Philadelphia in 1920, my great-grandfather and his sisters were born in Sewickley, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. This is written in his Social Security application, filed in Mount Vernon in the 1939. 
Stephen Joseph May (b. 1911) Social Security Application (1937)
When my family arrived in the first decade of the 20th century, Sewickley was already home to a burgeoning African American community, who found jobs with domestic work and in construction. As written by Bettie Cole and Autumn Redcross, authors of African Americans in Sewickley Valley 
“Sewickley is noted for continuing routes and safe houses for those on the Underground railroad. Known as an affluent bedroom community, Sewickley is considered the wealthiest municipality along the entire 98-mile stretch of the Ohio River. Early residents brought black servants with them to serve as domestics. As construction increased, many African Americans migrated primarily from Viriginia and Kentucky to work in the area as builders.”
Did my family also come from Virginia and Kentucky? The birth certificate for my great-aunt Gatsy would suggest so. Gatsy was born in 1906 in Sewickley. 

Gatsy May Birth Certificate (1906, PA)

Louisville, Kentucky is given as her father’s birthplace. Perhaps Stephen (b. 1882) came with this wave of Kentucky migrants as Cole and Redcross describe in their book? Yet, as I uncovered more records on Stephen, things got more confusing. I looked to his draft registration card for World War II. 
Stephen Joseph May(s) World War II Draft Registration (1942)
Here was undoubtedly the same Stephen May reporting his birthplace as Houston, Texas. This was even more confusing! Was he born in Kentucky or Texas? I soon came across some solid evidence that proved that it was neither. 
My first hint came from finding Stephen in the 1900 Census in Norfolk, Virginia. He is listed with a Mary May as his mother. 

1900 US Federal Census: Western Branch District, Norfolk, VA
May, Stephen (22) 
Mary (65) 
Lewis, Eddie (12)
Jackson, Robert (23)
Jones, Berry (Benny?) (22) 
Doing further research, I found that Mary May was the Husband of Stephen May of Edgecombe County, NC. 

1880 Census: Tarboro Township, Edgecombe, NC 
May, Stephen (38) 
Mary (42) 
Tom (19) 
Mary Jr. (10) 
Robert (5) 
Benjamin (3)
At this point, I still felt something was missing. Upon further census research, I found a Stephen May (b. ~1840) living only a 30 miles south of Tarboro in Olds, Greene County, NC. Seen on this map, it would not be a far trip to make in 1880. 
Distance from Tarboro, NC to Olds, NC (Courtesy of Google Maps)
And…this Stephen had a wife named Gatsy. 

1880 US Federal Census: Olds, Greene County, NC 
May, Stephen (30) 
Gatsy (26) 
Janie (6) 
Izell (Isaiah) (7) 
There was that name again! The name of my great aunt, daughter of Stephen May (b. 1882). Although Stephen was living with Mary in 1900, he named his daughter after Gatsy. Recently, I received Stephen’s original social security application in the mail. That proves that his mother was Gatsy. 
Stephen Joseph May (b. 1884) Social Security Application 
The same name given for Stephen’s mother, was the same family that was living in Greene County! It is highly likely that Stephen and Gatsy are my 3rd great grandparents. 
My conclusion is that the Stephen and Mary in Edgecombe County, NC and the Stephen who married Gatsy from Greene County are one in the same. I am working to try to characterize more about this Stephen May (b. 1842), my 3rd great grandfather. 
There may be one clue to unearthing his family story found in neighboring Pitt County, NC. There is a Stephen May (b.1800) found in the 1870 Census, that is old enough to be his father.
1870 US Federal Census: Greenville, Pitt County, NC 
May, Stephen (77) 
Partheny (33) 
Gilbert (16)
Washington (14)
George (12)
Samuel (11) 
Della (10) 
Peter (9) 
Issaac (8)
Ellen (7)
John (3)

Pitt is a border county to Edgecombe and Greene, and it would make sense for him to the Stephen’s father, given the long unbroken lineage of Stephen May’s in my line. 

Map of counties surrounding Wilson County, NC (Courtesy of FamilySearch Wiki)
In 1866, the North Carolina legislature passed an act to define the marriage of former slaves who had cohabited as man and wife prior to the Civil War. Stephen May (b. 1800) and Parthenia (nee Anderson) are found in these records and have claimed cohabitation since 1855. This means that it is possible Stephen and an unknown woman during the pre-antebellum period could have birthed my 3rd great grandfather in the early 1840’s. As this is speculation at this point, I will need more definitive documentation, oral history and DNA evidence to confirm. 
If it is true that Stephen (b. 1800) is my ancestor, then here is my line of Stephen May’s going back in time from my grandfather to my 4th great grandfather. 

Finding a Name…And a Path Back to Africa

For a lot of families with enslaved ancestors, finding your ancestors in the 1870 can be a daunting task. A few years ago, I found an article written in Heritage Quest by genealogist Tony Burroughs describing a phenomenon in African American genealogy that would help me do just that.

What advice did I get from this article? Don’t get too hung up on the surname. 

Let me give an example from my own research, that my have revealed my first documented ancestor with ties directly to the African continent.

In a previous post, I introduced you to my 3rd great grandmother, Eliza Cade Hubbard. Her husband, my 3rd great grandfather was Richard Hubbard (1856-1936) of Noxubee County, Mississippi. In the 1880 Census, Richard lived with his wife, next door to a man, Albert Hubbard, only two years his senior.

1880 Census: District 3, Noxubee County, Mississippi, USA 

Hubert (Hubbard), Albert (26)
                               Louisa (21) (Wife)
                               Susie (6)
                               Bucksie (4)
                               Hattie (2)
                               Louisa (5 mos.)

Hubert (Hubbard), Richard (24)              
                               Eliza (27)
                               Ivy (Ivory) (4)
                               Eliza (6/12)

I assumed it possible that Richard and Albert Hubbard could have been brothers. They lived basically in the same household in 1880 and both shared the same surname. I attempted to find Richard and Albert in the 1870 census with no luck. Then I noticed something peculiar.

Arthur J. Hubbard Death Certificate (1942, TN)

Albert’s son Arthur James Hubbard (1887-1942) died in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942. On his death certificate, his wife Katie gave his parent’s names as Albert Hubbard and Louise Stranum. With a maiden name for Albert’s wife, Louise, I then went to the marriage records for Noxubee County, Mississippi.

Missisippi Marriages (1800-1911) Courtesy of Familysearch.org
The record showed Louise with a similar maiden name to the one given (Stranum was probably a mis-transcription of Trainum) but Albert’s first name was completely different!
At the culmination of the Civil War, newly freed African Americans had the opportunity to choose a surname. Some would pick the names of a previous owner, while others would re-invent themselves with new names. The 1870 census was a critical document for African American surnames, because this is the first time they ever got to choose their own. This name may have changed based on personal preference and knowledge of the census recorder who may have been apart of the same community and known the African American family to hold a certain identity. 
Albert’s went by Albert Hubbard, and Albert Ramage. With both names in mind, I again attempted to find the family in 1870 and was successful. 
1870 Census: Township 14, Noxubee County, Missisippi
Ramage, Matthew (65)
               Francis (63) 
               Albert (17) 
               Richard (14) 
               Israel (20) 
There was Albert Ramage and my 3rd great grandfather, listed as Richard Ramage in the household of Matthew Ramage (b. 1805) and his wife Francis (b. 1807). I have not found out if Matthew and Francis were the parents of Richard and Albert. I have assumed at this point, they are more likely grandparents given the 50 year age gap between them. Perhaps they could have also just been a host family for brothers Richard and Albert who could have been separated from their parents before or during the War. I will need further documentation and or oral history to confirm this. 
After doing more research on the Ramage family of Noxubee County, Missisippi, I found that Matthew and Francis had two other children who were not living with them at the time of the 1870 census: Henry Ramage and Mariah Ramage-Calmes-Dantzler. In a 2014 visit to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, MS, I found Henry’s death certificate. 
Henry Ramage Death Certificate (1922, MS) 
The informant, Charles Doss reports that Henry’s mother Francis’s (aka Fannie) maiden name was Haynes and was born in Mississippi. Yet for Matthew (aka Mat) Ramage, his birthplace is given as South Carolina or Africa! 
Given the birth-date for Henry we have from the 1870 and 1880 census (about1805), it is completely possible that Matthew Ramage was born in Africa. The international slave trade was officially abolished on March 1, 1808. This means that if Matthew was indeed from the Motherland, he was taken as a young boy, surviving the grueling ride of the Middle Passage and brought to a plantation in South Carolina, before finally seeing freedom in Mississippi years later. 
I am currently scouring through South Carolina estate records to find more information about Matthew, and hope that soon I will also have a solid link to my connection to him.

It’s in Our DNA: Finding the Long Lost Brother!

On August 29, 2013, I started a journey that would exponentially expand my genealogical search both further back in time and forward to find thousands of unknown cousins. 
All I needed to do this was a little bit of spit… 
I took Ancestry.com’s test and provided a sample of my DNA 
In less than a month, I received my results back. The test gave me a breakdown of specific portions of my DNA that had markers which match with people who have resided in the same regions of the World for centuries.

My Ethnicity Breakdown (Courtesy of Ancestry.com)

Naturally, most of my DNA was from West Africa. This was no surprise. I surmised that most of my ancestors came to America in the same fashion: They were brought from a diverse population of African nations and states, taken as slaves to the New World and forced to farm plantations on the East Coast of the budding United States. 
When you undergo DNA testing at any of the three major companies 23andme, AncestryDNA, and FamilyTreeDNA, you will receive a list of people who have also tested that share some of the same markers in their DNA. Those who share a significantly high number of common markers will be identified as your cousins. 
Ancestry DNA tests Autosomal DNA this is the type of DNA that is passed down from your parents, about half from your mother and half from your father. Without boring you with the math, I will summarize that you receive half of your DNA from your parents, and about a quarter from your grandparents…and so on. 
Autosomal DNA is very good at finding cousins within about 4 generations (Above 90%) back to your 3rd cousins, but it has a limitation. The chance that you find a cousin at 7 generations  drops significantly to under 5%.  This is because at that point, the likeliness that you inherited a long enough piece of DNA that can be attributed to an ancestor who lived a few hundred years ago has decreased so much that we cannot distinguish DNA inherited by common ancestry and DNA that two people share, just because they are human. 

Women working in A cotton field in Mississippi

As an African American with Ancestry from people who were primarily enslaved, it makes things a lot harder. In order to find a common ancestor with my “DNA Cousins,” we are often stifled by the roadblock of Slavery. Records for many of my ancestors before the Civil War only listed them by first name, or simply don’t exist. Furthermore, slave-holding families migrated. It is completely possible for my family in Mississippi to be related to another African-American family in California, with no clear path to determining our common origin. 
I named my blog Afriroots for this reason. Every day, I seek to find common ancestors through DNA, and want to use that information to link us back to local plantations, and back to Africa and Europe where most of my people hail from.
A few months ago, I finally made my first concrete connection. 
Last week in Weaving Together The Pages I introduced my 3rd great grandfather Lawrence Page, and his parents, my 4th great grandparents Joshua and Patsy Page. 
I found Joshua and Patsy’s children in three records: The 1870 Federal Census, the 1880 census, and the Mississippi 1885 schedule of educable children, which I have summaries names and ages for below.  
1870 Census (Township 14, Noxubee, MS)

Lucinda (10) 
Lawrence (7) 
Joseph (5) 
Joshua (3) 
Isaac (1) 

1880 Census (Township 14, Range 17 Noxubee, MS)
Lawrence (16)
Joe (14) 
Dora (12) 
Patsy (10)
Grant (8) 
Lizzie (6) 
Mary (4) 
Bob (1) 

Educable Children’s Record (Macon, Noxubee, MS, 1885)
Joe (19)
Josh (15) 
Ike (13)
Martha (10)
Ellen (8) 
Nancy (5) 
A few years ago, I received information from a cousin about another Page that was not included in any of these records under the same name, George Page. 

George Page (Courtesy of Cousin D. Dickerson)

George Page was born around 1860 in or around Noxubee or neighboring Oktibbeha County, Mississippi. George lived and raised his family of about 13 children as a small farmer in the area. On George’s death certificate, the informant (his daughter Nancy) lists Patsy Page as his mother. 
George Page Death Certificate (1953); Source Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
Although George’s name had not shown up in any of the records for Joshua and Patsy’s children, I was sure that he was the son of my Patsy! 
Last year, I also convinced my mother to do DNA testing through AncestryDNA and 23andme. From her profile, I received even more confirmation of George’s connection to Patsy. 
Earlier this year, AncestryDNA released their “Shared Matches” and “Confidence” features. These two parameters give me information about how much I can trust that this is a true match, and help me possibly pinpoint it to a common ancestor. This cousin and my mother were predicted as 4th cousins, shared an “Extremely High Match” which according to Ancestry’s algorithm, means that there is a “Virtually 100% chance” we share an ancestor within a few generations. 
Shared 4th Cousin Match
(Note: The name of this cousin is kept anonymous, but the important details for connection are included)
You will notice that in our list of shared matches between my mother and this cousin, they are a “Very High” match to cousin James SandersCousin James is a 4th great grandson of Joshua and Patsy Page, and 3rd great grandson of Lawrence. This meant that this cousin of ours likely matched through the Page line! 
After going through the matches family tree, I determined that they were the grandchild of Robert “Bobby” Isaiah Collier (1938-1999) from Starkville, Mississippi. Starkville is just north of Macon in adjacent Oktibbeha County. I found an abstract from his application for a social security card that listed his parents. 

Abstract: Bobby I Collier Social Security Application (1953)
Bobby’s parents were Tommie Collier (1913-1976) and Rose Page (1916-2006). Finally we had found the name that we were already linked to through DNA. Further investigation showed that Rose Page was a daughter of George Page!

1920 Census: Starkville, Oktibbeha, MS; Family of George Page with daughter Rosa (age 3 and 5 mos)

This proved without a shadow of doubt that George Page was indeed the son of my 4th great grandmother Patsy! This matched the prediction of 4th cousin, as my mother shares with them a set of 3rd great grandparents (Joshua and Pasty Page). George was a brother to my 3rd great grandfather Lawrence!

Its amazing what you can find out with just a little bit of saliva…