finding your roots

A Sense of Self

Janice Conway-Klaassen April 2, 2012

I was extremely lucky when I began to investigate my family history. Both of my parents’ families had kept a strong oral history of the people they were and where they came from. I began with my current elders and worked my way back – essentially confirming the oral history along the way. But I wish I had begun earlier when my grandparents were all living. I have confirmed as far back as 1750 on my mother’s maternal (Leach & Hawks) side to a 14 yo slave girl from Ghana named Hannah Price, and on her father’s side to a group of free colored tri-racial people (Lumbee Indians) in North Carolina c1820 (Byrd, Lawson, Revels). For my father’s family, I have only been able to go back as far as his paternal grandparents (Brown, Conway) but for his mother’s side I can go back to 10th century England! (Wayne, Skipwith, Oxley) The Oxley line became Quakers who left England due to religious persecution coming to the New World in 1667.

The pictures were taken in 1963 at my maternal grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary with their children and spouses. The other picture is first cousin with me in the center standing.

My family has been of mixed race heritage since 1780 and has inter-married with other families with similar backgrounds to the point where only the blend remains. I am such a mixture of races and ethnicities that the lines are completely blurred; there is really no “percentage” that could be calculated anymore. My 1st cousins are all colors of the spectrum from white to dark skin, blond, red, brown, and black hair (straight or curly), tall, short, etc. So just what do we click on when someone asks for our race or ethnicity? I am all of those who came before me.

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About the Series

The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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