This was our recent Bloganuary post… How far back can you go in your family history?
My father did a lot of delving into genealogy. He worked on it, painstakingly and diligently, without the benefit of a computer or the Internet. He dug up records and family documents and made phone calls and took copious notes. Then he produced a beautifully hand-written family tree, which goes back to the Craufurds of the eighteenth century. Our rather famous ancestor was Major General Robert Craufurd (1764 – 1812) from Ayrshire in Scotland – a rather bad-tempered military leader, who headed all kinds of expeditions in South America and then went off to Spain, where he met his demise.
He was perhaps not our most loveable ancestor. He is described in Wikipedia thus:
Major General Craufurd was nicknamed “Black Bob.” The nickname is supposed to refer to his habit of heavily cursing when losing his temper, his nature as a strict disciplinarian, and to his noticeably dark and heavy facial stubble.
Wikipedia entry on Robert Craufurd
He sounds a little intimidating. I wonder what curse words were used in those days. Anyway, our ancestor was mortally wounded in 1812 at the siege of a fortress in Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain, which was occupied by the French. He was still in his forties. These Europeans were always fighting each other, weren’t they? For this fight, the Portuguese were on the British side.
Oh, and Black Bob’s nephew, Captain Thomas Craufurd, died at Hougoumont Farm during the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815 at Waterloo, Belgium. He also has a rather lovely stone memorial plaque and you can see the photo here. I think most of our ancestors thereafter died peacefully in their beds. At least, I hope so.
Nowadays, it’s relatively easy, I believe, to plug in some details about yourself and obtain a whole lot of information online. It took me a couple of minutes to find our ancestors fallen in battle. I recall some years ago visiting Salt Lake City in Utah, where we saw a vast room filled with people on computers, looking up their family histories. It’s the Genealogy Bank – operated by the Mormons – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it’s free and open to the public. Records go back to 1690, they say. Well, that’s as far back as American records are likely to go.
There is a section on that website about African American Ancestry. The best it can do is make available 170 years of newspaper articles online. “Find African American genealogy records from across the U.S. including: Obituaries, Vital Records, U.S. Military Records, Slave Records & Ads, Slave Narratives, Slave Owners Last Names & Petitions, Photos, Editorials, Illustrations, and more…” I am sure that many of these newspaper entries are painful to read – echoes of Jamaican-American professor Anne C. Bailey’s book “The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History.” Here is Anne’s blog. And where do you start in researching your ancestry, as a Caribbean descendant of enslaved Africans? This website gives you a hint of the complexity.
The Gullah Museum in South Carolina tweeted the following poignant entry recently, prefacing it: Formerly enslaved African-Americans would place ads in newspapers around the country in their quest to find the loved ones taken away from them—or who they were stolen from. This is something that began in the 1830s. The ads usually started with “Information Wanted.” I wonder if Nancy found her children, Millie and Mary.
Well, I can go back at least two hundred years quite easily. Not everyone is able to do so.
History (which is also family history) is not a pretty place, sometimes. But it’s there if you want to plunge into its depths, and see what you can find.