finding roots

Transient

The other night, I was surfing before bed (as you do), and one link led to another, and suddenly I found myself watching Finding Your Roots on PBS.  Specifically, this episode.

People, I am hooked.

Watching these celebrities' expressions as Dr. Gates reveals stories of their past and who they are connected to both historically and genetically has been straight up blowing my mind.  I can't explain why this is, honestly:  I've never had much of an interest in history, nor any passion for tracing my family tree, but watching this show -- and all the other episodes, I might add -- has straight-up sparked something.  And now I want to know more.

Transient

Part of the reason I've never tried to do any searches on my family tree, frankly, is because I always assumed it would be next to impossible.  I mean, just in speaking with my parents about our predecessors, once we go just 2 or 3 generations back, the number of countries and continents implicated in my family are staggering:

•  Africa
•  China
•  India
•  Scotland
•  France
•  Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean

And honestly, those are just the ones I've heard about.  There are very likely more.  On my father's side, I know my paternal grandfather's grandparents were slaves in Barbados, but of course, knowing much more than that is next to impossible.  One of my uncles has done a lot of research on one of my paternal great-grandmother's people, but the trail goes cold as soon as we get back to China.  And my paternal great-grandfather was actually born in China and immigrated to Trinidad when he was about 17 -- but we have no information on any of his people (he might have been born in Shanghai? Maybe?)  

On my mother's side, we have similar challenges as well.

To be honest, just knowing I'm Trinidadian/West Indian has always been enough for me.  It's the culture with which I identify most with, and being a multicultural black woman from such a multicultural country, where most of its population is multicultural, there just never seemed to be any need to really know more than that.  I'm proud of being Trinidadian.  I love my homeland.

But now? After watching all these stories, I'm sort of curious.  I know the reasons that there were large waves of immigrants from all of these various countries to Trinidad, but what are the stories that actually prompted my family to come?  Which of my ancestors were slaves in Trinidad, and which ones are descended from slaves in other islands, who subsequently immigrated to Trinidad?  And what African countries were all of my enslaved ancestors from? Are there any records of the people who owned and traded in my family?

And once we do get back to India, China, whatever country (countries?) in Africa that my family comes from, is there any possible way to find their people?  What about the Europeans who came?  My uncle's research revealed that a Scottish woman met and married one of my great-great-great-great (who knows how many "greats") Chinese grandfathers in Trinidad, making her my great-great-etc. grandmother -- how did her family feel about that?  How did his?

Transient

Anyway.

I'm sort of dipping my toe into doing some research, just to see if anything easily turns up.  I don't know how much energy I'll actually put into this (or honestly, how much I will share publicly -- it is possible that perhaps some revelations might feel very personal).  Besides, I can already tell this could turn into a full-time job if I let it; still, it might be interesting to experiment with. So I was wondering:  have any of you done any extensive genealogy on your own family?  Any tips?  In particular, specifically to those of you who are black or who have ancestors of African descent, was it difficult to find any information, especially once you get to enslaved generations?  Is it impossible?

And if you have ancestors from places where you don't speak the language, were you able to find anything in those countries?  How?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice, if you have any. 

Transient

 By the way, in completely unrelated news, I share the story about how these jasmine vines and flowers filled me with gratitude this week over at Babble -- I'd love if you'd take a look.  

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Song:  Grandma's hands by Bill Withers