This was the second year that Ms. Avis Johnson led her students at R.B. Stall High School through the Ancestors unKnown curriculum. We’ve been so impressed by Ms. Johnson’s commitment to her students and the mission of our program. She’s fortunate to work with such bright, thoughtful, and curious young people. And it’s been a pleasure to be a part of her students’ journey of history exploration, family history research, and defining their own legacies. What a year it’s been! Read on to learn how it ended...
Last month, students were particularly inspired by a visit from Prof. Melissa Cooper from the University of South Carolina. Prof. Cooper helped the students to re-imagine the outcome of their family history research, focusing less on the size of the family tree and valuing more the stories of each ancestor they do know. Ms. Johnson reported that students’ research excelled after Prof. Cooper’s visit. And some groundbreaking oral history interviews of the students' elders resulted.
Prof. Cooper from USC presents to R.B. Stall students, May 2014
Prof. Cooper's visit left quit an inspiring impression on Stall's students.
To wrap up the school year, students prepared time capsules that will tell future generations (and their future selves) something about who they are today. Students put lots of thought into what they would put into their capsules. Ms. Johnson will return the capsules to the students in their graduation year, 2017. But they won’t be opened until 2024! (We secretly wish we could sneak a peek at the stories the students have told.)
And finally, students presented the results of their family history projects. We're blown away!
Patrick was at first reluctant to complete the project due to his lack of knowledge of his father's side. However, with a little history knowledge and encouragement, he now proudly displays his ancestry!
Claudia was able to trace her family back five generations.
Impressive results and an incredible year! Many thanks to Ms. Johnson and her students for sharing it with us!
Have you noticed Ancestors unKnown’s recent mentions on some really popular online sites?
Our young program is attracting positive attention. And we’re thrilled to receive such enthusiastic responses. Many thanks to the media-makers who have shown incredible support for our work, spreading the word to your equally supportive audiences. What a boost this has been for our mission!

Click the links to learn more about the founder of Ancestors unKnown, our program, and plans for the (near) future.
African Roots Podcast: Episode #251 (we’re in the blog and discussed in the podcast around the 3:00 mark!)
And please continue to spread the word about Ancestors unKnown!
Who doesn't love a field trip?! Even better when the field trip takes you back in time, to an era you've been studying in the classroom with Ancestors unKnown. 

Last week, Ancestors unKnown students from R.B. Stall High School had the wonderful opportunity to leave their classroom for a visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Getting a taste of the Plantation's restored history, they took a tour of several slave cabins, visited the "Big House," and then toured the swamp gardens. And thanks to their generous teacher, Ms. Johnson, they were also treated to a tasty lunch while they were there.

According to Ms. Johnson, the students "had a blast" during their visit. And according to their tour guide, they were the best behaved group the Plantation has seen yet!

Many thanks to the Magnolia Plantation staff, R.B. Stall High School, and of course Ms. Johnson and her incredible team for helping to bring history to life for the students. We hope the experience highlighted the memories of their ancestors, giving them even more to appreciate about their history...and present.
Exciting news! We recently received a Classroom Learning Grant from, making the powerful tool for online genealogy research available to R.B. Stall High School students for the remainder of the school year.
Ancestors unKnown and agree that genealogy research can be an educational and life-changing exercise. So we’re thrilled to receive their support to increase interest in research and knowledge of family history.

Ancestors unKnown students in Ms. Avis Johnson’s Essentials of English class have already begun to take advantage of the free resource on their classroom. And we hope the results of their oral history interviews will be useful in boosting their research efforts. We’ll let you know how it goes. Best of luck to the student researchers!

And a big thanks to for this wonderful opportunity!
Last month we partnered with Barnes & Noble to host our very first fundraising BookFair. We asked our friends and supporters to head to B&N (in North Charleston and online) and buy lots of books. Turns out many of you did just that!

Thanks to you, our incredible supporters, the Ancestors BookFair resulted in nearly $5,000 in book sales! And since Barnes & Noble is sharing a percentage of it with us, that’s a pretty exciting result.

Our truest and sincerest thanks to everyone who participated in the Ancestors BookFair, with a special nod to those who joined us at Barnes & Noble Northwoods for the storytelling event. We’re striving to have a global impact on the quality and content of history education in schools. And we’re making strides in that direction because of your support.
And now that we know so many of you received books for our benefit over the last month, we want to know what you’re reading. Let us know what you think of your reading selection(s). Anything the rest of us should purchase during the next BookFair? 

Happy Reading!
by Catherine Ang

In 2004, my Lola passed away. She was the last of her siblings; and one of the last from that generation of “Lolas” and “Lolos.” The last time I saw her, I had had this idea of videotaping an interview with her. There was (and still is) so much I wanted to learn about her and my family’s history that I dreamt of capturing on film.  Actually, it was more than an idea; I simultaneously had a strong gut reaction that told me that I should really do this. I had our video camera and plenty of blank tapes, but in the end, I lost my nerve and never asked her. I was worried that it was a silly idea and that she wouldn’t want to do it. It is one of my biggest regrets. 
One of the [many] reasons I joined AU’s Board is because I strongly believe that learning about one’s family history can be a transformative, empowering experience. After Lola passed away, I remember sitting at her dining table with my Mom and Uncle as we sketched out the family tree; going back at least two generations. Doing this unearthed a myriad of stories that I’d never heard before which made me feel even more connected to my family. It was the first time that I had felt grounded in years. 

However, since that time, I haven’t talked that much about my family’s history with either my Mom or other relatives. My desire to do my own genealogy research resurfaced in recent years after I became a Mom. I want my son, who is biracial, to know about his Filipino and Chinese roots and more importantly, to feel connected to them. I know that there are a number of ways in which I can help foster his feelings of familial and cultural connection and teaching him about his family tree is one of them. 

If I could go back in time, I would muster up my courage to do that interview. However, since time machines have yet to exist, I can, at the very least, try to start capturing some stories now
2 Days Remain to Support the Ancestors BookFair at Barnes & Noble!

Fundraising isn't easy. Since Ancestors unKnown is a new organization, we try new approaches to raise the money we need to run the high-quality program we've designed for young people. And sometimes fundraising strategies line-up directly with the intent of the program: promoting knowledge of Black history.

As we end this year's Black History Month, we're asking everyone to buy a book at Barnes & Noble to support Ancestors unKnown. The book(s) you purchase don't have to be related to Black History. But wouldn't it be great if the store saw a sudden increase in sales for Black authors and topics of Black history? And wouldn't it be even better if that increase was for the benefit of Ancestors unKnown?

Here's more information on Facebook: BUY a BOOK for Ancestors 
by Natasha Boyce

The personal ancestors I value most are my great-grandparents, Jim and Mary Suber.  They met as sharecroppers on some farmland in New Berry, SC and were “married” at 13 and 14.  

For many, sharecropping was the equivalent of slavery. So their work conditions were less than ideal. My aunt told me that one day, the landowner attacked my great-grandmother. And my great-grandfather defended her against the landowner. Well, it was an unspoken rule that if a black man committed any “crime” against a white man (such as hitting a white man), they would need to run and disappear before sundown.  So, my great-grandfather fled to Rutherford County, NC. Once he found some new land to tend and established himself, he returned to New Berry to rescue my great-grandmother and take her to North Carolina. 

Sharecroppers in North Carolina

Photo courtesy of
I really like that story.  I appreciate that my ancestors endured the harsh conditions of slavery and sharecropping so that I can enjoy the life I live today. And I hope a little of my great-grandparents' rebellious spirit and desire for change lives on in me.
In preparation for our exciting Barnes & Noble BookFair next week, we’ve been compiling some book recommendations for you. If you’re looking for a good read and a fun way to support Ancestors unKnown, then we’re all on the same page. Check out our reading list below. And don’t forget to BUY a BOOK next week online (or, if you’re in Charleston, we’ll see you at the Barnes & Noble BookFair on Saturday).

Creating a list of “just a few” recommendations wasn’t easy. So feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.


Monday, Feb 24 – Friday, Feb 28, make a purchase at

AU’s BOOKFAIR CODE: 11314119
From the payment page, scroll to the very bottom and choose “Check this box if this is a Bookfair Order”

Recommended Reading from Ancestors unKnown

For your general interest                                                                                         

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana Byrd, Lori Tharps (2014, 2d edition)

A historical and anecdotal exploration of Black Americans' tangled hair roots. A chronological look at the culture and politics behind the ever-changing state of Black hair from fifteenth-century Africa to the present-day United States, it ties the personal to the political and the popular.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman (2008)

Saidiya Hartman traces the history of the Atlantic slave trade by recounting a journey she took along a slave route in Ghana. Following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast, she reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy and vividly dramatizes the effects of slavery on three centuries of African and African American history.

Prince among Slaves by Terry Alford (2007)

This is the true story of an African prince sold into slavery in the American South. In this remarkable work, Terry Alford tells the story of Abd al Rahman Ibrahima, a Muslim slave who, in 1807, was recognized by an Irish ship's surgeon as the son of an African king who had saved his life many years earlier. "The Prince," as he had become known to local Natchez, Mississippi residents, had been captured in war when he was 26 years old, sold to slave traders, and shipped to America. Slave though he was, Ibrahima was an educated, aristocratic man, and he was made overseer of the large cotton and tobacco plantation of his master, who refused to sell him to the doctor for any price.

They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America by Ivan Van Sertima (2003)

A compelling, dramatic, and superbly detailed documentation of the presence and legacy of Africans in ancient America. Examining navigation and shipbuilding; cultural analogies between Native Americans and Africans; the transportation of plants, animals, and textiles between the continents; and the diaries, journals, and oral accounts of the explorers themselves, Ivan Van Sertima builds a pyramid of evidence to support his claim of an African presence in the New World centuries before Columbus.

Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons by Marcus Garvey (1988, reprint)

"I do not speak carelessly or recklessly but with a definite object of helping the people, especially those of my race, to know, to understand, and to realize themselves."—Marcus Garvey, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1937

Black Heritage Sites by Nancy C. Curtis (1998)

A unique travel guide to the major landmarks of African American history across the United States. This volume includes descriptions and detailed visitor information for hundreds of places of national and local significance, from churches and schools to battlefields and cemeteries, from stops on the Underground Railroad to landmarks of the 1950s civil rights movement.

For South Carolina

The Knees of Gullah Island by Dwight Fryer (2013)

Gillam was born to free parents, and his life was untouched by slavery until his preacher father took him on a trip to minister to the Virginia slaves. Gillam wants beautiful Queen Esther from the moment he sees her, but the only way to purchase her is by distilling illicit whiskey against his family's advice. The Kness of Gullah Island follows Gillam, Queen Esther and their son, Joseph, in the years surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction, when the destiny of a nation hung in the balance. Filled with richly drawn characters and details that bring the past to vibrant life, this is a timeless story of love, loss, hope and rebirth set in Charleston and the surrounding South Carolina Lowcountry.

Click to read more suggestions that are for South Carolina, Genealogy and Young People

by Ron Lester

In December 1986, I reconnected with my father. My mother said that he would make visits until I was two years old before disappearing. Therefore, prior to 1986, I had no recollection of him. Seeing him at Christmas time of 1986 was like seeing him for the very first time in my life.  

In December 1992, I found out my father had two daughters, which is what prompted me to call and get in touch with them. In the early part of 1993, my father took me to meet his mother.  In June of that year, my mother and maternal sister met Grandma Katherine. She was a lovely woman, and I am grateful for having met her. My mother had never met my father's mother. She told me that she got a peripheral view of her when she was at their house for a party. But that house party was in 1964! So it took 29 years for my mother to finally meet my father's mother, face to face. Grandma Katherine died six months later, in January 1994. So I am very thankful that my mother, sister and I had a chance to sit and talk with her before she made her transition. I cringe at how we met her in the nick of time!   

We all gathered at Grandma Katherine’s house after the funeral service, when my aunt began to pull out pictures of other relatives who had passed on.  I remember being struck by how proud, confident and successful they all looked. One was a dentist, and it was easy to see that he was so proud as he posed with his latest state of the art dental equipment. The photo was taken in the 1950s
I also got the feeling from viewing all of those pictures that I come from a line of men who have a knack for dressing impeccably. My paternal ancestors appeared to be men with professional aspirations and positions. I remember thinking to myself as I viewed the photographs, "Wow!  I come from this?!" 

Can you imagine how meaningful it was for me to discover my paternal ancestors as a source of pride and inspiration?

Ron Lester is an Ancestors unKnown Board member. He is the Founder and CEO of Disco Party Fundraiser in NYC. And he is the Executive Director of the William Saxon, Jr. Foundation


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