Discovering Our Family Roots – We Are the Chosen Ones

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In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. — Alex Haley, Author of Roots

Roy Campanella Roy Campanella 1953

I have been assigned as the family historian and one of my responsibilities is to put together a family album that will be handed down to my 14-year-old nephew so that he will have some idea about who his family members are/were. At his young age there are so many family members that he never been able to meet or know personally. For example, all the family members on my father’s side of the family have now passed, including my father, his grandfather, who passed away on 20 November 2006, and whom he knew for only a short time. He also did not have a chance to meet my mother, his grandmother, who passed away on 12 June 1997, after losing her battle to breast cancer.

Some time ago while I was doing some research on my brother-in-law’s family line, I discovered that the famous baseball catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Roy Campanella, was one of his ancestors. I also discovered that one of his ancestors was a member of the Shawnee Indian Nation.

Thus far, I have traced my family lines as far back on my father’s side to 1792, the year that my great-great-great grandfather, James Brown, was born of a free Black woman. I have a copy of his Freedom papers. He and his sons helped found a small town called San Domingo, Maryland on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His grave and the grave of Elizabeth Leatherbury, my great-great-great grandmother are registered with the National Historical Society of Maryland as being the oldest known marked graves of free Negroes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My great-great-great grandfather and his two sons, Bayard and Leonard, also built the original Zion United Methodist Church in San Domingo, Maryland. The Church is now over 150 years old.

There is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his. — Helen Keller

San Domingo School

San Domingo School. Photo credit: Paul Baker Touart , August 2005.