How Much Do You Know About Your Family? » VSB

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How Much Do You Know About Your Family?

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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.

  • Great read, Panama. I always love to read about family history and all that other good stuff. I love it all. Family reunions are great because I found out that I am cousin to AZ (the rapper from back in the day) and former Eagles player Lito Shepard. And, family reunions are key because you need to know, especially if you have a large family like I do, to make sure you’re not dating a second or third cousin.

    Anywho, my dad’s side of the family is from Accomack, Virginia. My great grandfather was a freed slave and relocated his family there. I tried to track down the records, but there was a fire some time ago and all of the slave records burned. I’ve only been to the town once but I plan to visit again sometime in the near future. It looks like the time stood still in the town. Amazing.

    My mother’s family is from Sneads, Florida. All I know is my family has long-time history with FSU and FAMU (some of my family members serve on the board), there is a day commemorating the Smith/Jones family, and my great grandfather was one of the oldest living Army veterans at the time. He passed away years ago at the age of 112. I remember his funeral vividly because he had state troopers and members of the Army, Air Force and Marines there to render honors. What stood out to me most at his funeral was the funeral procession: the state troopers led the procession and at every intersection, a trooper would get out and salute the hearse. As soon as we crossed into another county, the troopers from that jurisdiction escorted us along…and again, at every intersection, a trooper would get out of his car and salute. It was the most amazing sight to see ever. I’ll never forget that.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    We always run into the same problem on my dad’s side; the court with the vital records burned down so we can only go so far back.

  • I know a whole lot about one side, my mamas side. I know nothing about the other. I just know that they are nuts! I always knew that my daddies side was a little off, but during the time of planning his funeral, all of that crazy was multiplied by 1000. Im talking Kanye drunk off the Henny at an awards show crazy.

    • It’s sad to say, but I’m ready for my last living grandparent to pass on so we can get that funeral and the fukkery which surrounds it out of the way. People are always at their worst during funerals.

      • Sincereluv4life

        I agree with both of ya’ll- every (black) funeral I’ve been to has been pure effery- I couldn’t even cry at my grandfather’s funeral, there was so much foolishness & comedy/dramatics happening – my grandfather woulda been laughing himself smh.

      • I had to deal with some “fukkery” 3 weeks ago at a funeral for cuz who was murdered in Salisbury. Black people + emotions + alcohol = fukkery.

  • PunchDrunkLove

    My dad’s side of the family is HUGE. Every one of my daddy’s brothers had at least eight kids. Grew up together, did things together, still do things together. Now, our kids are growing up together, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, generations of cousins, we’re all like sisters and brothers, thick as thieves. Down to earth plain good folks. Most are succesful. The men are God fearing, have their own businesses, trying to mentor the other young men in the famil. The women work, look, live, drive, eat well….still down to earth good folks though. Takes care of home, etc. If, (and I say that loosely) someone pops up out of nowhere claiming to be a long lost relative, we’re all looking at them like, umm umm, since when??? LOLOL

    Now, my mother’s side lives in Philadelphia and DC. Nice size family. My mom had a gang of sibs, but unlike my daddy’s side, each had about 2 kids at the most. Most times we came together due to a death in the family. We never had much in common, except with ONE of my mom’s sisters and her son….both cool as eva! He would always stay with us when they visited. My mama though LOOOOVED HER sibs, especially her sisters. The women all had the light skint syndrome going on…and you know we came up during a time when all that mattered was being light skint. My mom was the only one that took after her daddy, the rest were high yella like my grandmother. Let me tell you, they poked fun of how often my mama took us to church, how we had humble beginnings, didn’t eat or ride fancy. Most of them had more cray cray issues going on, but behind the big houses and fancy cars, all kinds of stuff was going on.

    Back then, being teenagers/young adults, I was the one that was always ready…lolol…here for it. I remember us visiting my aunt for some shing ding, and my booghie cousin tried to take it there, me being pregnat and unmarried. Mind you I was 28 and good and grown. I remember taking her down a few notches…it was no.holds.barred….and cheshire grins from my sibs….lol Think that was the first time I “officially” (being grown and all) let loose on her. She was ALWAYS the one running thangs. I remember when she started calling her mom by her first name, and all my aunts and uncles by theirs. Well, she called and asked for my mom by her name, I had to bring her down, put her back in her place….told her, “respect my mama.” lolol As younger kids though, my mama would hold us back and make us behave. She wouldn’t allow us to go ham like we all wanted to. At 28, grown, living on my own and making babies? Who was gon check me? She’s been nice every since :) She still bossy, but when it involves the fam, she stays in her place.

    For my mother’s side of the family, now that everyone is grown and doing well and light skint ain’t a big deal no more, they wanna come around, get close, get together. Believe me when I say we aren’t holding grudges, we just ain’t feeling them, don’t have it for them. We grew up with the folks we knew and had all things common with us. When there are events that bring us together with my mom’s side, we all hug and exchange pleasantries, but that’s about it.

    I said all of that to say…..there are juicy secrets from my mom’s side, but who cares? Back then maybe it would garner us saying “mmm hmm, I knew it”, but now? We couldn’t give 10 smucks. On my daddy’s side we’re saved folks, nothing shocks us, is a secret, or can’t be forgiven.

    One of my aunt’s son went missing. To this day never heard of, from about him. Not sure what he was doing, where he worked or with whom involved.

  • I don’t know much about my mothers side of the family, she left college, joined the army met my father and never looked back. There’s times I really wonder about that other end of the family tree then there’s the side that feels like she knew what she was leaving behind and why.

  • camilleblu

    let’s see…on my mother’s side

    her father – we can’t really go back past my grandfather bc evidently HIS father changed his name (informally i assume) in an effort to outrun the klan. and one day, he left home and never came back. the general consensus is that that the klan caught up to him. so, we don’t actually know what our original family name is for anyone to be able to research our family tree.
    her mother – .my great grandmother was the product of a wealthy land/slave owner and his slave in south carolina. the story goes that while he acknowledged his mixed children, he was a very mean man. he did leave quite a bit of land to his *slave family* that our current-day family still owns today. when i was a little girl, and used to spend my summers in SC, there was an old blind white lady that lived *up the road* from my grandmother – ms. emma kay – my grandmother and i use to go and check on her about every other day or so – feed her dogs, put up/take down clothes off the clothesline, wash dishes, etc. i didn’t find out until years after she passed away, and i was an adult that ms. emma kay was my grandmothers 1st cousin.

    on my father’s side

    my father’s father had 2 families. it’s my understanding that my grandmother didn’t know this until he was killed in a mining explosion when my dad was about a year old. so, the *1st family* circled the wagons and closed rank when he died and family information has always been less than forthcoming. all i know is that my great grandfather was originally from alabama somewhere. i have actually never tried to research my father’s mothers side of the family. they are all deceased now, and my dad is literally the last one standing, so i probably need to do that while he is still living.

    this is a great post pj. i think about this kind of thing quite a bit,
    bc my ex-husband is adopted. his adoptive family was/is great, but he
    knows nothing at all of his birth family – and has zero desire to ever
    find out anything about them. we have 2 sons, and i often feel like
    they are missing out on a potentially large part of their lives. i do hope that
    they will want to research it for themselves when they get older.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      So you are a true rose of the Midwest huh?

    • Andrea

      Don’t everybody have somebody that died in the mines.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Family life is really weird.

    Dad had 9 brothers and 2 sisters. I’ve only ever met 7 of the uncles, and accumulated to 5 of them, due to them moving to the States. My mom’s parents and uncles came to this country with their wives, and had their families here. However the rest of the family is still back home. So two different families from two different countries that are all quite huge. So I only know of the ones that came to America. Visiting Barbados & Grenada to see family is quite expensive so it doesn’t happen often. Same as calling or at least how it used to be. So in truth, I don’t know much about my extended family.

    And as for the family that lives in the States, while we were all kept close due to Thanksgivings, BBQs, baby showers, and weddings, the truth is my generation will probably not keep close once our parents die, because we barely talk to each other. I’m 31 now, I think the first time all my cousins decided to do something without our parents involved was 3 months ago.

    Also I have a half brother older than me, who’s daughter is probably 17 but I barely know her, and he fades in and out. He has an older brother that moved to VA years ago but I found him on FB.
    Like I said, this family life is weird, so I just stick to what I know.

  • My father side is full of a bunch of Gogh yellow siddity west Indians so I could go all the way back to Denmark or wherever the hell the Dutch came from if I cared to talk to that side of the family. My mother’s side would be more difficult considering there are a bunch of illiterate indigenous folk down in Panama. I know where they are but it’s a massive cultural shift so teaching that way is difficult. My great Aunt pretty much did the entire family tree for the more brown side of my maternal half. They have been mostly spread across Georgia, before recently moving, since enslavement.

  • Rachmo

    When I reflect on it, a lot of my family history is shrouded in mystery and fucksh*t:
    Dads side-
    I can really only take it back a generation or two. They had so many people getting locked up or getting strung out that no one was worried about documenting family history. All I know is his father was from South Carolina. His mom passed when he was 13 and he never talks about her. After that his Dad dropped the ball pretty hard he and his siblings were split up. I met his sister once before she died even though my parents raised her, and didn’t meet his brother until I was about ten. His Dad married again to so I have Puerto Rican uncles and aunts with Arabic names. IOENO. I tend to tune out bc it’s pretty depressing.

    Mom’s side-
    One side comes from the Civil War general/free woman and they are pretty normal. They all look borderline White though so I definitely stick out. The other half immigrated here from Bermuda in the 1900’s. Lord just let my aunt get drunk and she can tell stories for DAYS. Just shiftless n*ggas and the women that loved and divorced them for true. So many multiple marriages and scandals and everyone lived in like three houses and every other story involves a falling out at a cricket match in Bermuda. I didn’t meet my grandmother’s sister until I was about 15 (she lives five minutes away but zzzzz) and was completely unaware my grandfather wasn’t my biological grandfather until I was 10.I actually found out my biological grandfather was alive and in a twist of irony living close to the current boo’s family in New Mexico. Like I said, stories for DAYS.

  • Amazonian Midget

    I love genealogy! A couple of years ago (when I still lived in DC), I began researching both sides of my family because I got tired of saying, “I don’t know” when Ethiopians and Eritreans would ask if my roots were in east Africa.

    I still don’t have the answer to that question, but I’ve learned so much about both sides of my family. Fortunately, I already knew a lot due to stories, but now I saw documents and pictures that made those ancestors real. With the help of one of my cousins, I even found the name of my closest African ancestor (maternal), who emigrated from England. I really want to learn more about him.

    Some other highlights:

    -A paternal great grandfather had a paper route with Walt Disney when they were boys.
    -My maternal ancestors owned a lot of land in Arkansas, and were respected at a time when many Blacks were not.
    -My maternal grandmother’s uncles attended Howard University and one became one of the first Black CIA agents.
    -I traced my paternal grandfather’s (a man I never met) lineage back to the early 1800s.
    -I saw the naturalization documents for my paternal great great grandfather (he emigrated from Ireland).

    I’m starting a genealogical study for my husband’s family. He knows absolutely nothing, because his family didn’t talk about the past.

    • Amazonian Midget

      Oh and I’ve known about my maternal grandfather who was a card-carrying member of the KKK. Because of his name, they assumed he was white and sent an application. My grandfather’s logic was, “In order to defeat your enemy, you have to know how they work,” so he applied and was accepted. He never attended a meeting, he just took joy in knowing that the Ku Klux Klan recruited and admitted a Black man.

      They’re clearly bright individuals…

      • ED

        A real life black KKK member?! lmao

        • Amazonian Midget

          Yes! My grandpa was a trip!

      • kidvideo

        He was the real Clayton Bigsby.lol

        • Amazonian Midget

          Kinda, except for the whole hating Black people thing. Lol

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