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How it’s going

Unlike the meme, it’s going pretty well. I’ve added at least 200 genetically-related family members to my tree so far. I’ve also been able to go back a lot farther than I’d previously expected; my earliest known direct ancestor, Jane (Unknown) McGhee, was born about 1820. I used “Unknown” because I don’t know what her birth surname was (if she had one). I discovered her in an 1880 US Census record where she appears in the household of her daughter and son-in-law after being widowed. Her daughter Elsie (my great-great-grandmother) was already married by 1870 (the 1870 US Census is the first one that freed slaves appeared in and was the first to classify people by more specific ethnic groups), so I am unlikely to find a census record where Elsie is still in the household of her parents in order to learn the name of her father and the names of any siblings. It’s still possible to find the information, however, I just have to look elsewhere such as church records or plantation records. I’ve searched for an 1870 census record for Jane McGhee but was unable to find a match that made sense.

I was born in Michigan but none of my grandparents were. My maternal grandmother was born in Georgia but raised in Michigan. My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Oklahoma. Both of my paternal grandparents were born and raised in Mississippi and never left. My father moved to Michigan from Mississippi as a young man in the 1960s, part of the second great migration wave of black people from the south (my maternal grandmother’s parents were part of the first wave). Michigan has been recording vital information (births, marriages, and deaths) since 1867. Many states in the southern US, however, have records that vary greatly in quality if they even existed at all before about 1920. Mississippi, for example, didn’t start officially recording births and deaths at the state level until 1912 and their marriage records don’t list parent information before about 1926 (the very early records don’t even record the birth years of the bride and groom). Records in former Confederate states may have also been destroyed during the US Civil War.

Like most black people whose ancestors have been living in the US for generations, I assumed there was no point in researching my ancestors because of the brick wall known as slavery. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible that some of our ancestors living in the US weren’t slaves. I haven’t been able to confirm that for my own ancestors, but I’ve only confirmed one enslaved ancestor (so far) and he died free.

Most of my discoveries have been on my father’s side. I haven’t been able to find the parents of three (out of four) maternal great-grandparents. I haven’t given up, however. My persistence has already paid off: I recently found the parents of one of my paternal great-grandmothers and was also able to add a set of her grandparents to my tree. It was worth it to take a break from the task when I started feeling frustrated.

I’m still not connected to the global family tree on WikiTree. Unless you can directly trace a connection from yourself to someone famous, it can take a long time to connect through either a genetic relative or through marriage. While I think I’ve added every genetic relative I can find records for until the 1950 US Census is released, I haven’t fully covered the spouses of my relatives and their families. Every connection that you add to one of your connections increases your odds of connecting to the global tree.

I know I will be connected one day, I just don’t know when.

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