Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

How Much Do You Know About Your Family?

FullSizeRender (2)So I have one of those jobs that requires me to do one of those things where every-so-often, I have to query my family for random facts about things I thought I knew but have no earthly idea about. For instance, I have no idea when my mother re-married her current husband (my step-father). I called up my sister figuring that while I’m a terrible son for having no clue, maybe she’d know.

No dice.

Both of us were at the reception, by the way and it was a grand affair (they didn’t have a formal wedding). I was off by a solid two years. I thought they’d been married for like 13 years. Turns out its been 15. I wish I knew that. Fifteen sounds like a year you celebrate. I’d have sent a really nice gift or something. At least a card. Something.

But it gets worse (maybe not worse). I have a shit-ton of sisters. Most of whom are married. I had to call people to get wedding dates (I was at most of their weddings…we have a rebel sister who has been married a few times who hasn’t had one formal wedding yet) and last names and dates of marriages. That made me feel some type of way .

Here’s something fun, I have two step-sisters (though referring to them as step might get you slapped). Our mother’s (my step-mother, again with the slapping) information was required because, ya know, mother. Well, she had been previously married to their father. Do you know who had no idea when their mother and father were married?

Yep, my sisters. I’m over here giving them vital information for their lives. While I was talking to my mother she joked that maybe she needs to sit us down and talk to us about our histories and all that.

That brought my mind back to a time of my youth when I made an inquiry. Allow me to set a scene for you.

My family (on my dad and step-mother -slap- side) is full of southern Black folks. My mother is from Atlanta and my father is from a little town in Alabama called Five Points. It’s in Chamber’s County, Alabama which is where Joe Louis was born. Chamber’s County courthouse was used in Mississippi Burning. Anyway, I have a lot of uncles and aunts. I can honestly say that I only know two well. I’m pretty sure my dad has at least 10 brothers and sisters. At least. My grandfather had 10 (I believe) and my grandmother¬†had at least 4 kids. I met two of my father’s sisters at my grandmother’s funeral. To say they couldn’t have given a shit that I existed is an understatement but they didn’t give two fucks.

I’m losing my point, but I’m letting the beat build.

Point is, I only really know two of my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side but I do know his uncles pretty well. Well, two of them as well. My grandfather died when I was 3. As you can see, there’s lots of folks I don’t know that if I were to see on the street I’d have no clue they were family.

My mother has two sisters and a brother. Despite this being my “step” family, I’m way closer to this side of my family than my father’s side. Mostly because¬†they’re all in Atlanta and we spent a lot of time with the Atlanta family. One day, in my youth while my mom’s father (in the south we call those “grandfathers”…he eats dressing) was visiting from Ohio, I had an epiphany. So I went to my father with this epiphany that was more of a question. It went a little something like this:

“Daddy, do momma and her brother and sisters all have the same dad?”

My father looked at me and said some of the most poignant words ever uttered to an 8 year old:

“Shut the fuck up asking questions about stuff you don’t know nothing about.”

It’s no wonder I don’t know nothing about nothing; I was too afraid to ask. I also know this isn’t an uncommon history in a lot of our families. I’ve always wondered why we never have a family reunion on my dad’s side and its probalby because the folks in my family like things just the way they are. I have no idea if there are any skeletons in any closets. I have to wait for funerals for that. But I never really felt like I could ask those questions anyway. Black folks are always talking about airing dirty laundry and presumably, many of our ancestors had a lot. Presumably. I really have no clue because again…

…how would I?

For that thing I have to do for my job every-so-often, those types of digging into the weeds are unnecessary. But I can honestly say that I’ve never really thought much about my family history outside of my immediate family. Or at least not enough to try to ask the questions that folks might have been living with long enough to not want to answer. This is a shame, by the way. But it’s really easy to have a million cousins and family members that you know you’re related to without really having any clue why. There are just certain places in America for which I’d never date a woman claiming such place as home. Newnan, Georgia. Roanoke, Alabama. Anywhere in Chambers County, Alabama, specifically.

And the point of it all is that I wonder if other people have faced similar situations when trying to find out information about your family. I also wonder if this is a Black thing. Not to racialize everything, but you know there’s a reason why Black folks are obsessed with image and not airing dirty laundry. And a lot of that starts with family.

I got all the information I needed, by the way. I’m also sure we’ll never have a family pow-wow where its explained why that one cousin always shows up to events but none of us really have any clue who she is attached to. Okay, that’s not true. Or is it?

No one really knows.

How about you? How much do you know?

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • Both sides are my family for the most are from or live in the SC counties that are on the border with Georgia. I know a lot more about my dad’s side of the family but information about my maternal side of the family kind of dead-ends. Turns out there was a host of them living in Florida but no one is sure who they got there or how they fell out of contact. There’s a rumor that we’re low-key related to Strom Thurmond and I’m happy to keep that a rumor.

    I have a brother who is like 56 years old whom I’ve never met or laid eyes on and he lived in the same county as I did. My sisters know him but me and my brother…nah. I’m kin to people who I couldn’t explain who I am but it’s been verified.

  • Meridian

    I think I have a pretty good grasp on my immediate family and my mom’s side of the family. Kind of. I think anyone from the south has 10-14 aunts and 10-14 uncles on both sides. I only know like 4-5 aunts on both my mom and dad’s side. I think that’s all I need to know seeing as how my mother is just discovering sisters in recent years. I know my cousins. I know where our roots come from. I know how my parents met. I think I have a good, general idea of my family’s history when it comes to core members. The estranged people? Not so much. There’s not really a necessity for me to know at this point in my life because it’s not like I’m ever gonna be around them or anything. I don’t really care either. I mean, I care about where my roots go back to and how the family tree works but I don’t care about my 13th Aunt removed from my 2nd cousin after her 3rd marriage. At any rate, moms dukes is a talker and she was always filling me in on our family history and what not. Gossiping in the form of family education. I hardly know anything about my dad’s side of the family though. I haven’t met many people from his side and I imagine that’s because he didn’t have the best relationships with them. I guess it would be nice to know and be close, but I’m not sweating it too much. I don’t think it’ll matter in the long run to know them or not because I don’t have consistent contact with any of them.

  • Elowwole

    There are people in my family (on my dad’s side) that can name every person we are related to and explain how they are related. These people get together at least once a year. I’m not one of them. I just don’t care enough to.

    I feel like I should…but I don’t know them and they don’t know me. I doubt a yearly visit will change that.

    I am aware of one interesting tidbit in my families history. One of the family genealogists found out that our family name isn’t our master’s name. My great, great, great grandfather had enough of that slavery thing so in a fit of rage he burned his master’s crops, fled, and changed his last name to…wait for it…Outlaw.

    I know next to nothing about my mom’s side and I have first cousins, aunts, and uncles that I grew up with but go years without having contact with. Of course those cousins now have children and I’ll probably never know them.

    • Wild Cougar

      I like that story

    • ED

      That story is awesome

    • camilleblu

      my grandmother on my mother’s side could recite SO much family history. i wish that i would have had the foresight to record her before she passed.

      • PhlyyPhree

        There are some elders who have transitioned and I really wish I had talked to them more before they had.

      • Elowwole

        My 86 year old grandma can remember the birthdays and ages of all her 7 kids, all her grand-kids, and even the great grand-kids.

        I can’t remember today’s date.

        We lose so much history when they go.

    • Sincereluv4life

      so he burnt down all of massa’s crops & switched yall’s name to Outlaw– ok, so this is my other favorite story of the day :-)

  • Wild Cougar

    mmmph. Image keeping. One side of my family is all about image and keeping secrets. Maybe because they owned a lot of land in the south when that was nearly illegal, maybe because a lot of them are light skint and some passed. I don’t know but that image and keeping up appearances thing is really a crock. I don’t really care to know that much about that side of my family, they don’t seem very interesting. The other side? Whoooweee! They are on the other side of the country and they are a bunch of happy, partying, screw anything that moves and pop out a dozen babies, dark skinned folk that never age, IDGAF, so what I’m drunk, yeah yo daddy got ten kids by 8 different women, so what, you my cuzzo lets have a BBQ and gossip kinda folk. I love them so much. I really want to be closer to them. Like a lot, but my mom is from the upstanding side and she kept us away from them because, well, you can see the problem. I need to visit them more.

    Fun fact. Before my grandmother died at 99 this summer, she could count over 100 grandkids on account of all the screw anything that moves activity. So, anyway, she had a great grand kid who had a great grandkid. I think that’s 7 generations. I heard from my cousin about her young life, and long story short, I’m a chip off the old cougar block.

  • Uniquely Blushed

    This was a good read. I found out my grandmother was half white when i was in high school. i saw a picture with my grandmother, her siblings and my great grand parents and i asked my mom why was grandma the lightest of the bunch. my mom replied with a mmmph. 2 years ago we finally met a couple of my grandmother’s nieces and nephews (all white) at our family reunion. but it was something that no one spoke of. It’s crazy because a lot of the white kids i went to school with were related to us and we didn’t know….

    • This reminds me of an instance when I was in high school and I found out that my white math teacher and my black neighbors were sisters. One of my sisters went to high school with both of them and she was like “yeah”. They had the exact same face except one was white and blond and the other was black with reddish hair.

  • Aishah Briscoe

    You’re definitely not the only one, Panama! I had to do a genogram (fancy name for family tree and a lil more detailed) for a grad class, and I found out a lot about both sides of my family that I didn’t really know. For example, my paternal great-grandparents (my grandfather and grandmother’s parents) had about 15 kids! So 30 kids?? Say what now??? The juicy part of the story (at least I thought so) is that when my great-grandfather died, my great-grandmother married one of the other brothers, so her name remained Stewart, so my grandmother was partially raised by her uncle/step-father! Sheesh! And let’s not forget to mention that on my mother’s side, that folks raised other people’s kids as their own whether they were actually blood or not! So confusing! And if I have one more person ask me if I’m related to such and such Briscoe!! I have no clue! I barely know that side! I used to think that Briscoe was a pretty unique last name until I became an adult and people always ask! All I say now is, “It’s possible. Great-granddaddy Moses had 15 kids so you do the math!”

  • Andrea

    We have the Smitherman family reunion every 2 years. Doc Smitherman….the guy they named the reunion after….is my Great-Great-Grandfather. That weekend I was informed he is also my Great-Grandfather. I’m still processing that?

    I”m gonna just focus on my quadruple-great grandma Venus now. See if we can finally understand her route from Africa. Other than that. I’ve learned enough.

    • Wild Cougar

      please explain the great grandfather is your great great grandfather

      • Andrea

        Incest. He married a beautiful woman named Mahalia. They had a beautiful daughter named Bevie. She was so beautiful…….he decided to become Bevie’s Baby Daddy.

        • No offense, but that’s really disgusting of him to have a child with his child.

          • Andrea

            EXTREMELY. But it empowers me to see the magnitude of love my grandmother’s had for each other. They didn’t dispose of my Grandma Edna. They didn’t make her feel ashamed. They loved her fiercely. And that is the reason I exist.

            • Sincereluv4life

              wow

  • About 25 years ago, I had a great aunt that everyone (myself included) thought was a sweet old lady that wouldn’t hurt a fly.

    I mentioned that to my mother and she replied “Yeah…about that. Don’t let her looks fool you- when she was younger in the 1930’s, she served a few years in prison for killing someone with an ax”.

    Naturally, I was like “WTF??!!!”

    • IcePrincess

      Lol!! Reminds me of that 90’s movie, “I married an ax murderer” or something like that

      • When my great aunt told me, she was very nonchalant about it- as if it wasn’t a big deal to her. I’m looking at her like “Woman…you killed someone…with an ax…”. I understand she was trying to defend herself, but sheesh!

    • miss t-lee

      I love it.
      All these little old ladies gotta hella stories. That’s why I love listening to my grandmother’s antics back in the day.

      • Old ladies will tell you some stuff to make you go “Wait…what?!”, LOL!

        • miss t-lee

          My grandmother does it at least once a week.

    • Sincereluv4life

      my favorite story of the day lol

      • It’s one of those things where I can’t do nothing but shrug my shoulders. I mean, she was only five feet tall and smiled all the time, so I thought she was harmless. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

    • S Emm

      Yep. My jolly old aunt in the carib who i thought just likes to cook and take care of babies. turns out she’s a loan shark and numbers runner. Asked me to drive her to a “client’s” house one day. woman came out crying and trembling while she handed her cash. if you could see the side eye i had that day.

      furthermore, looks like it runs in the family. The whole time i thought my great grandmother just sold dinners to people. turns out that was a front for her numbers business. had my dad doing her books when he was 7. SMH

      • I know your family reunions had to be awkward as sh*t after finding that stuff out, LOL!

  • Interesting read. My parents both come from large families, I know the history of my grandparents, great aunt/uncles, aunts/uncles and first cousins. Outside of them, I find larger family reunions to be confusing. We have a lot of play cousins and informally adopted people on both sides that confuse things. I love all things history so this is a major interest of mine. I find myself asking my older relatives about their perspective on past events. One day I hope to document this for the next generation because once the old generation is dead, that information is gone forever.

    • Elowwole

      You better get started.

  • Pillows McGee

    I have learned I know nothing and what I thought I knew was wrong. I started seriously doing genealogy research 5 years ago prompted by my happening to come across my grandmas death certificate who listed her mother as somebody whose name I had never heard of ..turns out it was the same lady i knew as her mother but have since found out she went by MANY different names. This led to a pattern on this side of the family everybody many names, still haven’t uncovered that mystery, still searching

    In my time searching I’ve discovered, name changes on both sides, various aliases, 4/5 marriages per person (folks in my family back in the day seem to up and marry more than you change draws), new kids and step siblings with all these new marriages, boarders at age 12 (which make no sense to me), dead babies, mysterious age changes that are wayyy off (think 5-10 years instead of 2 or 3 but clearly the same people), the worst of all are what I call ghost people. These are people that members of the family swear existed and I’m not talking 1 or 2, I’m talking at least 12 people who i can find NO legal paper trail record of.

    The few older remaining in the family do not want to help me, I ask a question and get yes or no answers or flat out ignored :( . I will and have continued my search without them but clearly the only thing I know for sure (thanks DNA!) are who my mama and daddy are and that my grandfather is my grandfather and all this is only because of a 23andme test I took and made my grandfather take lol that show he is my grandpappy and my fathers cousin came up in the relative results …after that shhhiiiii

    • Andrea

      How did you like 23andme?? I haven’t really spent time trying to look at the ancestry information. And the connections you can find. When I did it I was focused on something else.

      • Pillows McGee

        I like 23 and me I have no complaints about it, the only creepy thing is someone came up in the relatives searched and reached out, told me he was adopted and looking for family, we were very distant cousins so I guess he thought it appropriate to hit on me, i was like no dude lol

        but in my genealogy research its also been good as the relatives reach out to you and discover or piece together things for you. for ex i get a lot of the white people contacting me who are surprised that a black person came up in their relatives search, mine is very mixed of all ethnicities but maybe for them only a few black faces show up, at any rate (sorry I’m long winded) he found my great great grandfather before I did and told me about it, it helped me search that name and find more information that has since been confirmed.

        there are people who are way more into it and actually read the DNA and the point you share to figure out the relative, groups for your type all types of things ..again i have no complaints i think its great though i could definitely see how it could bring up all sorts of trouble and information that was suppose to stay hidden in families.

        i am sooooooo sorry I’m really working on my brevity

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