After I was youthful, I not often requested questions on my household. I knew we blasted Stevie Marvel at barbecues, went to church on Easter and spent nearly each summer time in Louisiana visiting our household.
The reality is I grew up probably not having to confront, talk about or defend my Black id till I went to school. It wasn’t that my Blackness wasn’t essential however that the neighborhood I lived in proper exterior Washington, D.C., was so various and intercultural that it was by no means some extent of dialog or isolation after I was a child.
As I grew older and honed my analysis instincts as a journalist, I started to ask extra pointed questions on my lineage.
My household at all times celebrated our Black id, though we’ve got a multiracial background. However as I grew older and honed my analysis instincts as a journalist, I started to ask extra pointed questions on my lineage. How did we find yourself in Louisiana? Why do we’ve got a farm there? At what level did my ancestors’ French and Black bloodlines combine?
Questions like these are laborious to reply — not only for me however for hundreds of thousands of Black Individuals who haven’t got documentation of their ancestors. However just lately, one thing occurred that has helped join a few of these dots.
Forward of Juneteenth this yr, I had the distinction of reporting on the tales of pupil activists, historians and Black Individuals working to offer reparations to the descendants of slaves on school campuses across the nation.
The motion for reparations at Georgetown College sparked nationwide consideration in 2019, as college students advocated for atonement for the descendants of the enslaved males, girls and kids the college and Maryland Jesuits offered in 1838. The sale of those 272 slaves, generally known as the GU272, saved the college from foreclosures.
In 2019, 66 % of Georgetown college students voted in a referendum so as to add a $27.20 pupil price to be donated to descendants of the GU272. Nevertheless, the college by no means formally handed the measure. (As a part of my reporting this yr, Georgetown despatched me a press release that learn, partly, “With a view to embrace the spirit of this pupil proposal, Georgetown has established a Georgetown fund supported by a minimal of $400,000 a yr for community-based tasks to profit the Descendant neighborhood.”)
Again in 2019, the story piqued my curiosity, on condition that I’ve household from Louisiana and appeared to share many qualities of the GU272 descendants. I appeared up my final identify on a doc known as “The Manifest of Katherine Jackson 1838” and was shocked to discover a 6-year-old lady named Harriet Eaglin listed on the transaction.
My coronary heart sank, and I felt the warmth rise in my cheeks. It is one factor to deduce the place your loved ones got here from, however it’s a very totally different expertise discovering private clues about your loved ones’s not-so-rosy previous. I refreshed the web page. For some motive, I already felt related to Harriet.
On the identical time, and it feels bizarre to say, however I used to be excited by this clue. It did not make me completely satisfied to consider the brutality and inhumanity Harriet confronted, however the potential for connecting my bloodline to a reputation made me really feel a way of optimism. I felt hopeful that I might be capable to carry her identify again into the world and welcome her into our household once more.
Subsequent I discovered a doc titled “How Do I Know If I am Associated to the GU272?” I started checking off each merchandise on the checklist: My household is combined and Black, it is Catholic and it is from St. Landry Parish, and I have been caught making an attempt to find extra about my household historical past earlier than the 1850s.
I felt hopeful that I might be capable to carry her identify again into the world and welcome her into our household once more.
I did not have a platform to share my story after I began investigating in 2019, however one thing concerning the urgency and fragility of the pandemic pushed me to begin investigating once more for Juneteenth 2021. I related with Georgetown alum Richard Cellini, founding father of the Georgetown Reminiscence Challenge, for extra data.
“The Georgetown Reminiscence Challenge is right here to provide folks again their story, as a result of these tales are so great,” Cellini instructed me.
Cellini stated the Georgetown Reminiscence Challenge has been capable of determine hundreds of GU272 descendants due to family tree, written data and DNA affirmation. He gave me extra details about my household, together with the excessive chance that at one level our final identify was spelled “Edelin.”
“The Eaglins really have been a really well-known household of Black individuals who have been enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits in southern Maryland,” Richard stated, “Simply being Black and Catholic is type of a giant clue. However while you add in these different issues, just like the surname and likewise the geographic connection, based mostly on every little thing we all know, I might say you are nearly actually related to the enslaved neighborhood that was owned by the Maryland Jesuits.”
I have never been capable of verify my connection to Harriet via DNA, however I would prefer to sooner or later.
And whereas I’ve skilled frustration, disappointment and confusion within the means of discovering Harriet, I’ve additionally skilled pleasure. Having household data and documentation is a privilege, one I do not take frivolously. Whether or not I am straight associated to Harriet or not, I plan to proceed to seek for the roots of my household tree. And I would encourage others who’re interested by their very own roots to search for assets that may assist. Join the dots; move that data alongside to different members of your loved ones; assist jump-start a brand new sense of generational data, therapeutic and belonging. We actually can be taught a lot about the place we’re going as soon as we perceive the place and whom we got here from.