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African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In Search of Our Roots -- Buy the companion book now from ShopPBS
Sharing Stories: One Family's Story
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STORYTELLER LOCATION YEAR TOOK PLACE TELLER'S PLACE OF ORIGIN HOW YOU HEARD
Mom, aunts, bio-dad USA...at home or on phone 2000s Mom and aunts: northern europe. Western U.S Dad: nigeria, igbo listening to family stories mostly

I pick up most of my family history by ear. When I'm older and have more time I hope to do it more deeply, but for now this is what I have. I am biracial. My mother is white and my father is black. Unlike most people who are biracial in america, my father is Nigerian. To me there's a fair difference. For example where one's parents might tell you of the civil rights era, mine tells me of the civil war. I prefer to go chronologically so I'll start with my mother.

My mom (and I) are LDS. I'm fifth or 6th generation. Next to the usual stories of this or that royalty, my family history, to me, starts with a jewish man. His father had wanted him to be a rabbi but it didn't pan out. He left for Britain and subsequently left his faith to become christian. There he married a woman and settled down. The missionaries came and converted him and his wife and they immigrated to the states and into nauvoo (early mormon city) they left with the rest to Utah when they were kicked out. Jump foreward a bit and there's my great-grandmother, the lady I'm named after (Merle). She lived in arizona, married, and moved to a farm in idaho around depression times where she'd live most of her life after. She had a huge brood of kids, one in which was my grandmother who would then have a brood herself of 14 kids. My mother continued with 6 children, in which I was the oldest and the only from that relationship. My step father is hispanic and my half-brother is half-morrocan. This is the family that I grew up with and what I knew as a heritage.

When I began to talk to my bio father, he would tell me stories and a few of the details of that heritage came in. The first came from pictures. His family had a compound (somewhat like a farm) in nigeria and I had multiple uncles and aunts on that side living there or in that area. It was green there, rainforest, jungle type green. This suprised me since what little I knew of africa was the sahara and of nigeria the larger urban city. But they lived in the country on a compound, fairly far from large cities. Later he would tell me childhood memories. There was an old system of a chief, who could afford to have multiple wives followed by a civil war and his memories of hiding from bombs as a child. There was a father who would later be kidnapped by terrorists and never seen again. And there was a mother who he loved that would die of weakened health from strokes. Lastly there was a wife and four more children, 1 who I've still not met but is supposed to be part polynesian, 1 who grew up mostly on a reservation with his native mother, and two that are from his wife (nigerian as well) and him. His part of the story grows a little bit more each time I can get him to talk about it. One day I hope to get a fuller picture of this part of my history as I do the other side of my family. I doubt I'll be able to go as far (the work on that side is from multiple generations...somewhere we have some fat book on our family geneology), but it'll be interesting to study a history and culture a world apart, and yet just as much a part of me as the other.

With such a large family from a variety of backgrounds, I find the connections of family interesting. I want to learn so much more, not only of my direct bloodlines but the other sibling's lines as well. I'd love to make a book of all these various families so that I could give it to my children. For now, it's a dream. But the little more I know the more I've learned to be proud of such a mixed family that webs across multiple countries, ethnicities, and races. Not to mention the number of languages I want to learn is growing (spanish and igbo) lol.

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