Tracing my ancestors: my African Heritage moment

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday February 11 2015 in Opinion
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Several years ago I began looking into my ancestry, just to see how far back I could go. I expected not to be able to go much beyond the immediate post-enslavement days. Most of my research began, and stayed in, the Internet world, accessing whatever available records there may be online; posting questions on genealogy sites and waiting for responses.


Today, accessing some records have become much easier as information that was once held in archives around the world is becoming more accessible online as records are being digitized and made available.


One of the largest collections of ancestral information is through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). There is a story here but I will leave it for another time. Let’s just say, they present one of the best collections to track individuals historically around the world.


In those early days, one of my ancestors whom I tried to track, one of my maternal great-grandfathers, was Uriah Leophold Brown. Sure, there was some information that I could obtain from my mother and other relatives, but memories are limited.


I met my great-grandfather Brown probably when I was about five or six. He was not a tall man and his demeanor, as it appeared to me then, was stern. After all, he was a teacher – popularly known and respected as Teacher Brown in Seaford Town, Westmoreland, Jamaica. He was the headmaster of the local public school, lay preacher at the local Anglican Church and, I believe, a justice of the peace.


In other words, I was in awe of him. I don’t remember ever seeing him smile – not that I saw him much over the years.


His wife, my great-grandmother, Cordelia Rebecca, was also a teacher. She was even sterner. When I was introduced to her, I remember her hair was being combed, by whom I can’t remember. But I remember her command: “Come closer let me see you.” Of course, I didn’t go running to her. I took a few tentative steps in her direction. I do not recall any comment she may have made (probably thinking I have to get away from her as fast as possible).


A recent trip back to the website, and I was able to find a copy of my great-grandparents’ marriage registration. They were married in February 1899 (the 23rd) at New Roads Church, Westmoreland. He was 26, she 28.


There were another couple of pieces of very valuable information in registry. This was the very first time I was able to put a name to two of my great-great-grandfathers – Alexander Brown and Richard Williams, the latter being Cordelia’s father. The next steps, of course, are to try to identify the spouses of these two men – and it may be possible.


I don’t know if you can sense the excitement and the eagerness to pursue this, for a number of reasons. Here were two people of African descent who were leaders in their community perhaps because they were teachers. What were some of the challenges they faced in those early days?


Seaford Town was, and is, one of the settlements for ex-patriot Germans in Jamaica. A recent partially-completed documentary I saw about Seaford Town identified some of the relationships – or lack thereof – between the African and White population of the village. The White population largely kept to themselves to the point that there were frequent inter-marriages within that small White community.


My mother tells the story she heard from her grandfather that one ex-patriot German who came to ask him to complete a form prefaced his request by saying: “Even though you are Black and I am White, you know how to do this and I don’t.” (Or words to that effect.)


Great Grandfather Brown was born in 1873. That was 39 years after the official abolition of slavery in Jamaica. Again, there’s a story here.


I vaguely recall someone in the family saying that he attended Mico College, now Mico University College, for his teacher training. Mico was founded in 1836, the oldest teacher training institution in the western hemisphere, according to its website.


And, in exploring great-great-grandfather Brown, what did he do? He would have been born, I guess, shortly after the abolition. The same for great great-grandfather Williams.


I also knew my other maternal great-grandparents, the Hardings in Lamb’s River. I am now wondering whether I will have the same good fortune in learning more about them and their ancestry. I have been re-energized.


I doubt very much that I, and most other African descendants, would be able to trace our ancestry back to the Continent. But there is something exciting about trying.


Email: / Twitter: @pghntr

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