Happy Thanksgiving to our friends and families in the U.S.!
If you’re fortunate on this holiday, you’ll get to spend some time with your family. So let’s see... You’ll definitely talk about the yummy food. And you might have a chat about the nasty weather. But will you be talking about your family – past, present, and future?
Don’t waste an important opportunity. ASK QUESTIONS! Here are some questions to get the oral history party started:
1. Who influenced you the most when you were growing up?
2. What lesson(s) did your parents teach you that still stand out to be true?
3. Where did you go to elementary school?
4. When were you (if ever) drawn to a social movement?
5. Why did you/your family choose to live in [name the city/town]?
6. How will your descendants remember you in 100 years?
And maybe some people have enough memories to answer for their parents and grandparents!
But don’t let me have all the fun. What questions will you be asking during the holidays?
It's time to build lots of awareness and support for Ancestors unKnown in the United States! Dana Saxon, Founder and Executive Director of Ancestors unKnown, is heading to several U.S. cities over the next couple of months. Stay tuned for information about creative and informative workshops, entertaining fundraising events, and inspiring volunteer opportunities. If you've been wanting to get involved, it's about to be that time!
If you're in or near any of these locations, let's hear from you and SEE you soon:
- Charleston, SC
- Washington, DC
- New York City, NY
- Chicago, IL
- (and maybe) SF Bay Area
The ancestors will be lining up for this one!
By Dana Saxon
Recently I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Curaçao . It was strictly a vacation, for the purpose of catching up with friends, distracted only by good food, drinks, and bodies of water. Admittedly, when our car whisked past the Curaçao National Archives, I contemplated finding some time to pay a visit. The contemplation lasted only for a few minutes – until I was likely distracted by the mention of food, drinks, or a body of water.
But even the most relaxed and single-minded travelers can find their way to a good museum. And my friends and I did just that when we added the Kurá Hulanda Museum
to our loose agenda.
The museum advertised an opportunity to learn about the people of Africa and its Diaspora, with a particular focus on the history of African people in Curaçao This type of museum can go several ways, some of which lead visitors through tours of laughable inaccuracies and callous carelessness. There’s also the possibility of finding an historical gem that tells a new, unique, or at least accurate story. And call me a pessimist, but I had my doubts about this museum that was originally opened and funded by a Dutch “collector” in khaki cargo shorts.
Display of USCT soldiers
I ask to speak for my friends when I say we were pleasantly surprised. Having splurged for a tour guide, we were given an interesting view into history that ties together and continues to influence the African Diaspora. The exhibit on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery was more vivid than most, including shackles to hold and a ship replica that brought us to experience the small size and darkness of the lower deck that held Africans captive. With an occasional abrupt change of focus, the museum represented different parts of the world through a wide range of history – even Darwin and Lucy (the oldest human-type bones that were discovered in Ethiopia) got some space. Other than Curaçao, Suriname, Ghana, the U.S. and Ethiopia were most represented. And I was happy to see a section covering struggles for freedom and civil Rights in the U.S., including prominent displays of Black soldiers in the Civil War (U.S.C.T.), Marcus Garvey and the Black Panthers.
"Dear visitor..." (click to enlarge)
Although I remain somewhat skeptical about how the man in cargo shorts came to acquire all of those artifacts and historical treasures (and for that matter, where/how some of those replicas were made), and the room paying homage to the island’s very small Jewish population raised some of our eyebrows (including the tour guide), I was pleased with our visit. I commend the Kurá Hulanda Museum for taking on the challenge of telling a long, complicated, sometimes painful, and always rich history of Black people – though perhaps erring on the side of taking on too much.
An individual's freedom
Walking through each of the museum’s themed houses, I appreciated the curators understanding of the connections between the various countries, people, and time periods . And it was even better when our tour guide made a casual, yet powerful mention of what’s been done to “our people.” Indeed, our people.
Now I’m just doing some wondering: what would be the most important exhibits to tell the shared and divergent stories of Africa and its Diaspora? Is it possible to do your story, my story, or our story justice in a museum of limited space? If you had lots of money and some cargo shorts, what would you include in your museum of history?
Let's hear your thoughts.
It’s no exaggeration when people say “fundraising isn’t easy.” They’re correct. It’s quite challenging, in fact. But as a new nonprofit organization with more expenses than income, what choice do we have? So we’ve been fundraising! Our first fundraising campaign
In support of our (growing pricey) launch, Ancestors unKnown recently completed a crowdfunding campaign. And we turned to family, friends, colleagues, and friends of colleagues and friends to reach our $6,000 fundraising goal. Using CauseVox
, we were able to collect online donations and almost
reach our goal. And fortunately for us in this case, almost definitely counts. Because with the fantastic show of support we received, we’ve been able to make some great strides in the official start-up phase. We’re in business, folks! A raffle and a winner
We’re not the only winners here. As part of our campaign, we entered all donors of $100 or more into a raffle. What we offered: a 6-month Ancestry.com subscription
and to get started, some family history research guidance from our Executive Director, Dana Saxon. We think that’s a pretty good deal.
And the winner is….
Mr. Joaquin Denis, Washington D.C.
Congratulations, Mr. Denis! We look forward to working with you. And be prepared to join the worldwide ranks of genealogy enthusiasts! (Note: Ancestors unKnown will not be responsible for any resulting research addictions.)
It’s never too late!
For all of you wishing you had an opportunity to show your support for Ancestors unKnown, it’s never too late to make a donation! We set-up an ongoing CauseVox campaign that will allow you to contribute as little or as much as you’d like, whenever you’d like – no deadline!
An incredible community project came to life last week in Suriname, promoting knowledge and celebration of the country's Black ancestry. In Sranan Tongo (Surinamese language), sabi yu rutu translates to “know your roots.” And with the Sabi Yu Rutu Exhibition and Opening mini-Symposium, we set out to inspire guests to do just that.
Sabi Yu Rutu was conceived by an international group of writers, researchers, artists, and family historians, including the founder of Ancestors unKnown. The collective began meeting over Skype, representing the Netherlands, Suriname, the U.S., Ghana, Tanzania, and the U.K. The group refers to itself as Who.Am.I., sharing the objectives to raise awareness of shared African ancestry and increase interest in family history research across the Diaspora. What better way to promote the group's initiative than to explore the themes of art, history, and ancestry among a broader audience with a Sabi Yu Rutu event?
Who.Am.I. represented at Sabi Yu Rutu. Click each image to enlarge.
Looking forward to Suriname's 150-year celebration of Emancipation from slavery on 1 July, 2013, Paramaribo, Suriname was the perfect location for Sabi Yu Rutu. And because Ancestors unKnown recently completed its first pilot project in Paramaribo in June 2013, the organization was proud to take a leadership role in coordinating the event.
Jeremiah Quarshie painting of Ank de Vogel- Muntslag (2013)
in Sabi Yu Rutu
Sabi Yu Rutu was a 5-day art and history exhibition. The event highlighted a painting from Ghanaian artist, Jeremiah Quarshie, depicting Ank de Vogel-Muntslag and the story of her ancestry, which she traced with years of research from Suriname to West Africa. (Both Jeremiah and Ank are members of Who.Am.I.) Sabi Yu Rutu was complemented by works from contemporary, Surinamese artists who work with themes of identity and ancestry, including Ken Doorson, Shaundell Horton, Raimen Bijlhout, and Sirano Zalman. Also included were images and artifacts from the archives of Ancestors unKnown partner organizations, NAKS and EBGS (Moravian Church) Archives, along with photos and sample family trees from participants in the Ancestors unKnown pilot project.
On the 27th of June, Sabi Yu Rutu opened with a mini-Symposium, which included a valuable presentation from Ank regarding her family history research. Ank also provided strategies to help others make similar discoveries related to their own Surinamese ancestry. Marilva Eiflaar, from the EBGS Archives, presented on other research strategies, as well as the results of the Ancestors unKnown project among EBGS and NAKS participants. Members of the audience took notes. And based on their enthusiasm and follow-up questions, they were inspired to do some family research of their own. The questions continued and enthusiasm maintained through the 1st of July, when the exhibition concluded following national celebrations of Keti Koti.
So we're counting Sabi Yu Rutu as a success! And we're thrilled that Ancestors unKnown is part of this growing community in Suriname and far beyond.
Now to keep the good work going, join us and the Sabi Yu Rutu community
on Facebook! Who knows where and what we'll come up with next?
Many of us have confronted the question, “who am I?” And we can't count the number of times we've heard someone say, "I wish I knew something about my ancestors." But how many of us take the next steps to answer the questions? And when we do take those next steps, how many of us are faced with barriers so challenging that we walk away from the quest of family discoveries altogether?
What are the challenges that stand in our way of learning more about our ancestors? And why are these nagging questions so often left alone, untouched and unanswered?
Among Ancestors unKnown students in Charleston, we discovered one issue that likely affects young and adult family history researchers alike: tight-lipped family members
They might be the only ones in the family who have any knowledge of the ancestors. Perhaps they're even holding onto childhood memories of experiences and lessons learned directly from those ancestors. But for any number of reasons, they don't want to share with you, the researcher. Perhaps the memories are associated with a personal pain. Or maybe a family estrangement has led to the unrelenting silence. And we can't be the only ones with a grumpy elder who just doesn't want to put up with all those pesky questions. They probably respond with something like, “what do you wanna to know for?”
So we're curious: have any of you family historians faced the ever so frustrating challenge of tight-lipped family members? If so, how did you overcome that barrier? And what other issues or challenges stand in the way of your genealogy research?
And for the many of you who ask the questions of family history but have not yet pursued the knowledge, what's standing in your way?
We'd love to hear (and learn) from you in the comments...
by Du'Charm Archer
Our 9th grade history teacher started the class with, "Write down where your family is originally from. Trace your family back as far as you can." Pencils to paper, everyone began writing. I wrote down that my dad's side is from St. Kitts by way of St. Thomas and that my mom's side is originally from Georgia, and like many, moved to Detroit during the Great Migration. I wrote down, "Africa," and then stopped - silence amidst a cacophony of moving pencils.
When we were asked to share, my classmates were very specific, "My grandmother is Swedish and German," "My grandfather is from Sicily," "My mother's family is from Seoul, Korea," "My great-great grandparents were both born in Guadalajara." My peers talked about which eastern European ancestors changed their name when they came to the United States and mentioned the exact years their family members came through Ellis or Angel Islands. There was even one classmate who proudly traced her ancestors back to the Mayflower.
Like my classmates, I grew up hearing stories of my ancestors, both those in my family and the larger Black family. However, the more I heard my classmates speak, the more I realized, I was the only student who, when tracing my history back, traced it back to a continent instead of a country or city. I did not know my forefathers' names or where exactly they lived before and upon arrival to the Americas. A wave of emotions passed through me, discomfort, anger, frustration and ultimately sadness regarding how much of my family and collective history was stolen and seemingly untraceable.
Over the next decade, I read, traveled, took classes, went to lectures, watched documentaries, soul searched and asked questions of my parents, grandparents, great-great aunts and uncles to relearn and reclaim my birthright - knowledge of my history. Still, even after learning and experiencing the vibrant traditions and stories of my ancestors from west to east Africa, Brazil, Europe, the Caribbean and North America, there continued to be a silence within me that rang with the voices, names and narratives of all that I still did not know.
When I was asked to write the curriculum for Ancestors unKnown, I did not hesitate and began this labor of love that same day. As a teacher, in particular a teacher of Global History at a boy's high school in Harlem, I always created my own materials, but saw how Black Diasporic history (and the history of people of color overall) was absent in mainstream curricula. In a textbook with over 1,000 pages there were a few paragraphs about slavery, a short chapter on the Civil Rights Movement (highlighting the same names and information we hear each year), and a few sentences on apartheid in South Africa.
This is a huge, but not accidental, oversight on the part of textbook companies and curriculum writers. This exclusion ignores the multi-dimensional history of people of African descent, while painting a grossly inaccurate picture of world history. Generations of people are and have been left in the dark, misled under the pretense of falsehoods guided by the omission of truth. Where is the torch of truth, of honor, of redemption?
Ancestors unKnown is a shining light for students in Suriname and South Carolina and will soon expand across the globe. By providing a space for students to research their family history and the collective history of people of African descent, Ancestors unKnown challenges traditional curricula and pedagogy and enables students to learn the stories, songs, traditions and names of those that have allowed them to exist today. Ancestors unKnown defies the limitations of knowledge and identity that so many 9th graders like myself once accepted as true. It allows us to reclaim and rewrite the stories that have been erased in our memories and textbooks because truly, we are the ones our ancestors have been waiting for.
When we launched pilot projects in Charleston, S.C. and Paramaribo, Suriname at the start of 2013, we were hoping for positive results. But like all new programs, we really didn’t know what to expect. Now, several months later, the test runs have revealed some interesting results. So now let’s take stock of the lessons learned – the good, the not quite as good, and the surprising.
Q&A with Ms. Johnson
Avis Johnson, who teaches English at R.B. Stall High School, has incorporated Ancestors unKnown into her 9th grade Essentials of English class for the last few months. She shared with us some insight on what’s working and what we can learn from our pilot in Charleston.
AU: As the pilot project comes to a close, what’s your impression of Ancestors unKnown?
AJ: It has been an awesome experience to share the history, ancestry, and culture of African people with respect to their connection to people all over the planet. Having exposed three Essentials of English classes to the curriculum, I found that my students were sincerely excited and eager to “know more.”
AU: What were some of the program’s highlights?
AJ: Noteworthy highlights of the program were the presentations given by invited guests and field trips to help make real world connections to the curriculum. Students were able to place a face with the printed page as well as experience what had just been taught.
AU: You mentioned some of the students faced barriers with their family history research. Tell us about some of the more common challenges.
AJ: Students were asked to interview a family member to begin their ancestry research. After many days of pleading with eighty-five percent of the students to complete this assignment, I finally had a “heart-to-heart” with them and found out that there were two major factors that contributed to a lack of student buy-in for researching their ancestry. One factor was ninety-five percent of my students were from single parent households headed up by either a mother or a grandmother. And second, students, unfortunately, felt ill equipped to research their paternal side due to an existing parent or family member unwilling to share any information about a father. When I then shared that research could still be done using the maternal side of their family, it was then that students began to share conflicts that existed within their families that denied them the opportunity to conduct an interview. This was unfortunately vindicated by many parent phone calls from me. To my dismay, it was very disheartening to learn that so many families were divided.
Another factor was found with an entire class block. Ninety-five percent of the class make-up was Hispanic. To my surprise, when they were asked to complete the assignment, I first experienced reluctance, which later turned to defiance. When asked to explain their behavior, they finally shared in confidence that parents were skeptical due to paranoia that they were being investigated for citizenship concerns. After reassuring many of them, a few were willing to complete their interviews.
AU: Would you recommend we do anything differently next year with Ancestors unKnown at R.B. Stall?
AJ: I would approach things a little differently next year. Parents would be invited to an informal “interest” session to inform them and encourage them to actively support and participate in the program. There would have to be sponsored field trips planned at least bi-weekly to broaden the scope of the program, especially since so much of what they would be taught is right in their “backyard.” More community mentoring would be sought to fill the void that many students feel as they research their ancestry from a maternal side.
In a nutshell, money for invited guests and field trips is necessary to offer the program at its best.
AU: Will you stay involved with Ancestors unKnown after this year?
AJ: Most definitely, as the above named concerns prove, in my opinion, that the need for this program is so much greater.
Last week, when we checked-in on the Ancestors unKnown Facebook page, we were thrilled to find a sudden increase in wall posts (from none to many). But what could have led to this sudden outpouring of online commentary?
Turns out our very first U.S. participants (9th grade students at R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston, S.C.), were taking to Facebook to share their thoughts about Ancestors unKnown. And we’re so pleased with what they had to say!
We noticed a few trends in their comments:
- The unKnown curriculum is packed with new and interesting information. A few popular topics were Capoeira, African inventors, and the stories of Black soldiers.
- The field trip to the Avery Research Center in Charleston, S.C. was a big hit. Students learned how to conduct oral history interviews. They were preparing to interview family and community elders for their family history research projects.
Co-teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Fallon, with students at the Avery Research Center, helping them to dig deeper in family history interviews
Students with Ms. Sheila Harrell-Roye of the Avery Research Center
- Guest speakers, including the Gullah Lady and members of the 77th Chapter of the North Charleston Buffalo Soldiers, were enthusiastically received. The Buffalo Soldiers made a special impression and stood out as a highlight for many.
Pres. Myron "Pepper" Thomas and V.P. Theilen "Big Easy" Smith, of the N. Charleston 77th Chapter of Buffalo Soldiers, sharing their history
The Gullah Lady performs for students
- They want more! More family history research, more guest speakers, more field trips, more Ancestors unKnown!
- And finally, young people really do value knowledge of history and family.
It's really important where you come from because when you do know where you come from, you show your pride to the world.
It's really important to me to know where I come from because if I don't know my culture I don't know my history and I want to feel good about my culture. I want to express my culture with many others.
It's very important to know where you come from. If you don't know your background,you wont know what has been achieved throughout your family tree and how to chart your future.
Learning about my ancestors is the beginning for me.
This is just a small sample of insightful comments. To get the full scoop from R.B. Stall students, read their complete wall posts on the Ancestors unKnown Facebook page
. You won't regret the few clicks it might take.
And then, why not help us provide students with more
of an even better
version of Ancestors unKnown? DONATE and SHARE
to support our official launch in the fall. You'll definitely make a difference.
Each month, a local expert is invited to host a workshop for our participants on a topic related to Afro-Surinamese history. Matters of history, including migrations, language and religion provide greater context about the lives and experiences of Afro-Surinamese ancestors, better informing our local family tree research.
Here, we provide an overview of some of what we've learned.
Workshop over Sranan tongo
by Darell Geldorp
(English translation below)
In verband met ons Stamboom onderzoek project hebben we om de ene maand een workshop over verschillende onderwerpen die inzicht kunnen brengen naar het manier van leven en het gezin situatie van onze voorouders.
Op een Zaterdag in Maart ….. volgden we een workshop over Sranan tongo . De inleider was dhr. Eddy van der Hilst.
dhr. Eddy van der Hilst
Hij gaf aan dat de Sranan tongo al bijkans 300 jaar bestaat en bracht ons helemaal terug naar de tijd van de slaven handel in West Afrika. De slaven handel was toendertijd onder leiding van de Portugezen. Zij brachten dan verschillende tot slaaf gemaakte Afrikanen bij een. Om tender tijd te communiceren onstond ere een portugese pidgin; bestaande uit portugese woorden en worden uit de verschillende talen van de verschillende Afrikaanse stammen.
Toen de tot slaaf gemaakte in Suriname waren was Suriname een kolonie van Engeland. De engelsen communiceerde vaak met de slaven zo werden veel portugese woorden van de portugese pidgin vervangen met engelse woorden. In 1680 toen Suriname kolonie was van Nederland begon de begin fase van de Sranan tongo. In tegenstelling tot de Engelsen communiceerden de Nederlanders niet zo vaak met de tot slaaf gemaakte.
Verder over onze stambomen heeft dhr van der Hilst ook vertelt over het familiesysteem van de stadcreolen en de hindoestanen. De stadscreolen volgen een matrilineaire system. De familie van je moeder is je familie. Bij de hindoestanen gaf hij aan dat de dochters uit huis gaan en gaat wonen bij haar schoonfamilie.
Ook gaf hij aan dat het heel belangrijk om bij het plegen van onderzoek voor je stamboom je rekening moet houden met kinderen die zijn geadopteerd, kinder die zijn erkend maar biologisch niet van de vader zijn en met pleegkinderen. De vraag is neem je deze kinderen ook mee in je stamboom.
In connection with our Genealogy research project, we have a monthly workshop on various topics that can bring insight into the way of life and the family situation of our ancestors.
On a Saturday in March ..... we followed a workshop on Sranan Tongo. The facilitator was Dr. Eddy van der Hilst.
He indicated that the Sranan Tongo has existed for almost 300 years, bringing us all the way back to the time of the slave trade in West Africa. The slave trade was at that time under the leadership of the Portuguese, who then enslaved and brought over Africans from several parts of Africa. In order to communicate during this time, a Portuguese pidgin emerged, consisting of words from Portuguese and the different languages of the various African tribes.
Later, when the enslaved were in Suriname, Suriname became a colony of England. The English often communicated with the slaves by replacing many of Portuguese words of the Portuguese pidgin with English words. In 1680, when Suriname became a colony of the Netherlands, the initial phase of Sranan Tongo began. Unlike the English, the Dutch were not communicating with the enslaved so often.
Furthermore, regarding our family trees, Mr. van der Hilst also talked about the family system of the city Creoles and Hindus. The city Creoles follow a matrilineal system. The family of your mother is your family. He explained that for the Hindus, when the daughters leave home, they go to live with the in-laws.
He also indicated that, when committing to family tree research, it is very important to keep in consideration the children who were adopted, including the kids who are recognized (legally adopted) but not by their biological fathers and foster children. The question is whether or not these children are also included in your family tree.