finding your roots

We all come from somewhere

Ashley Jackson-Cooper September 5, 2012

My family is from different islands in the Caribbean, but I was born here. Growing up I always felt out of place. I got taunted by cousins when I went to the islands to visit for my “Yankee” accent and made fun of for not liking sour sop, malt, “fungee” and other popular food and drink. At the same time, growing up in the particular Manhattan neighborhood I’m originally from, most of my friends were white and Jewish, and I was the only person of Caribbean descent that I knew. They were my friends, but I was out of place around them too. I was jealous of friends who could tell me they were 1/2 Polish and 1/2 Irish, or Puerto Rican but they knew their grandfather was from a particular town in Spain. I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence feeling like like I had no roots anywhere – that I was just floating around in space.

In high school, my paternal great uncle presented other members of the family and I with a 200+ page manuscript of all his genealogical work over the past decade. I was amazed. I hadn’t realize how deeply our roots were in the islands. I decided after that to find out more about my mother’s side, and started on my own journey. For having spent most of my life considering myself “boring”, I’m astonished at what I’ve found. According to 23andme, I’m 70% African, 27% European and 3% Asian. My maternal line is very likely Mandinka and today is found mostly in Senegal, Cape Verde, Mali and Guinea-Bissau. I’ve found connections to people all over the Caribbean, US and Latin America, and as far away as the British Isles, the Netherlands, Argentina, Spain, Russia and Morocco.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the biggest thing this journey has taught me so far is that no one is just floating in space, rootless, even though for many of us it may feel like it. We all come from somewhere.

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  • Vantona Wright-Townes

    November 15, 2012 at 3:53 am

    hey there! i’m from the bahamas. your great-grand father and my great-grand mother were brother & sister Hopkins. like you, i’ve started on this journey as well.

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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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