Looking for my African American Roots
My family lore told of Native American ancestry. When I asked WHICH ancestor supposedly had Native American roots, I was told my mother’s grandmother. THe first thought that came to mind was, “but she looks black…” Well, a study of the census revealed a white-washing of my family line, quite literally: My great-great grandmother and her children are all listed as mulatto in the 1910 census and white in the 1920 census. Somewhere between the lines they shifted racial identity, and everyone involved went along with the shift. It started with my great-great-great grandfather, George Bowers, b. 1839 in PA. He and his German wife are easily located in the 1880 and 1900 censuses. Where he came from before that is a mystery that my cousin and I just can’t clear up. There were at least three George Bower’s in PA born in or around 1839, and the confusion between them has lead to misinformation in all directions. I would love to figure out where he came from–according to his census statements, his parents were born in Kentucky or Tennessee. I’ve found mentions of a prominent free black Bowers family with long roots in Virginia, and I’ve also found mention of noted black musicians named Bowers in Philadelphia in the Nineteenth Century. I would like to find out if their stories are a part of my story. I know that I am descended from slave owners–some of the founding families of the Virginia Colony. My children are also descended from Puritans on their father’s side. Those histories are easy to trace. I would like to find George’s history so it can be held up proudly next to the others–his story is an American story, too: he married a white woman in Michigan while it was still illegal to do so (by lying on the marriage license; he was at the vanguard of the labor movement (he was a Teamster right at the formation of the union–the ONLY integrated union at the time; his obituary lists him as being “well known around town,” yet his origins are a mystery.