I applaud young people who understand the importance of family.
Growing up I was the youngest of 3 and the only girl by my mother. She was a strong, single, God-fearing mom my whole life, taking on the duties of raising 3 kids alone. Her and my father weren’t together, they split when I was a baby. My father was an absent parent, never around for any important dates like birthdays, holidays, graduations and etc so our father-daughter relationship didn’t exist. I desperately wanted that fairytale father-daughter relationship but ummm yeah IT NEVER HAPPENED because he had a fantastic career with the shipyard that required him to travel the country often, so anything I had going on was not on his radar.
I was a quiet kid all my life. My life surrounded academics and pretty much nothing else. As a young adult in my early 20’s I was so busy trying to find myself and figure this thing called life out that I totally ignored the importance of staying connected, bonding and building with FAMILY.
Family bonding fills an empty hole deep inside you. For some, it’s a hole that you never even knew existed.
Personally speaking…my spirit has really been intuned into this feeling of incompletion lately, and it’s completely family related. The best way to describe it is a “longing for blood-related family”.
For the last 2 or 3 years, I’ve been struggling with the thought of “there’s got to be more to me”.
After many many talks with my dad’s brother (Uncle Anthony) and my oldest brother Darnell, I decided to let the past stay in the past and forgive my dad for his lack of parenting and not being around. I took the initiative and the necessary steps to rekindle a relationship with him. It hasn’t been easy at all, but I’m making it happen the best way that I can.
All my life on my mother’s side of the family I only knew my mom and my siblings (of course), my grandma and her kids which are my aunts and uncles. My grandma had 8 children and they had plenty of children so I defintely wasn’t bored growing up. I also knew 2 of my grandmother’s siblings (my great aunt and uncle) and my great-grandmother Henrietta Hinton (before she passed).
Now all my life on my father’s side of the family I only knew my dad-Gino Smith (of course) my 2 half siblings Tamara and Lil Gino, my grandma Rosa-Lee and a few of her kids. Here’s whats interesting….my dad’s mother had 13 stair step children (back to back children), I only knew maybe 3 of those 13 children that she birthed. Wild right? It’s actually pretty sad. Growing up I heard stories of my dad and all of his sibiling being placed into foster care as kids. They were all split up at a very young age. Two here, two there and so forth and so on. Come to find out, my father’s mother only kept 2 of her 13 children which was a decision forced upon her by her husband who was also the father of all the kids placed in the foster system.
Learning that alone, just hurts me deeply, smh. How can parents just give their children away? I know they were teens when they started popping out children, so maybe they were just too young. Maybe they were struggling to feed all those children and just couldn’t maintain anymore. Maybe my grandfather was just mean as heck and didn’t want the responsibilty of parenting although he was knocking my grandmother up every 9 months it seems. Who knows? I don’t know their struggle but the question of “how could they do that to their children” haunts me.
If there’s any positivity in any of that is the fact that years later she eventually got all her children back with the exception of 3 of them. This apparently happened after she split from Louis Calvin Smith (her husband/my grandfather).
Tracing my Ancestry
Ok so let me tell you how this journey to find my family began…
Mid-January (this year) my father’s brother (Anthony Smith picture at the top) whom I’m very close to ask me to help him find his 2 sisters that were given up for adoption at birth…I saw so much sincerity in his eyes and it touched my heart so I took on the challenge instantly. I left his house, came home and signed up for an account on Ancestry.com. I had no clue how to navigate the site, I didn’t know how much it was going to cost, I simply didn’t know what to expect or what I was getting myself into but the one thing I did have was confidence. I was filled with determination, whatever it took I was game for.
The first thing I did was begin to get familiar with the site, after that I plugged in my parent’s names, dates and places of birth and from there little green leaves began to pop up on their profiles. Just like that, my family tree began to grow. The leaves that pop up on profiles are hints that lead you to more documentation connected to your loved ones. Those documents can be birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, obituaries, censes records, wills, draft cards, farm records, you name it. I sacrificed sleep for about 5 days straight, many of those nights I fell asleep on the keyboard of my laptop between 4-5 in the morning because my ancestry tree wouldn’t stop growing lol. The suspense was killing me, I couldn’t leave hints unseen until the next morning. I’m now sitting on loads of documentation, that detail who my family is. Over the last few weeks my family on my father’s side alone has grown by atleast 200 people and that’s no exaggeration. I still haven’t found those lost/adopted sisters for him but I feel like I’m so close.
As my tree continued sprouting, it began to connect me with other trees in the database that had the same family members. Super cool right? When I viewed those trees, I began submitting internal emails to the people who created those trees. To date, I’ve done this about a dozen times and 5 of 12 emails got responses typically within a day or two. The other’s are still dormant and haven’t gotten a response yet.
Those 5 connections from both sides allowed me to speak to people in my family who I had no clue existed and they confirmed the accuracy of most of the documention I’ve gathered online and further connected me with even more traceable family.
On my father’s side alone I was able to speak to my father’s first cousin (Jannie Pollard daugher of Lucille Turner-Pollard who is my grandmother’s sister) whom connected me to a TREMENDOUS tribe of family who originated from Elizabeth City, NC. The Turner family is MASSIVE in number. Those are my newly found folks!! My dad’s mother’s parents (John W. Turner and Queenie Ester Turner) had 15 children and my grandmother was the youngest. Many of my great-grandfather’s 15 children are now ancesters that have transitioned on but their children and grandchildren are alive and well, pretty tight knit and they welcomed me with open arms.
Jannie befriended me on facebook, I stumbled on my 3rd generation cousin Erma-Lee by looking through Jannie’s facebook friends and that’s when things started really heating up. Every family has an “Erma-Lee”, you know…that one who keeps amazing records and knows everyyyyyybody, how many kids they have and etc. She is the family’s living archive. It turns out that she has been living about 15 mins aways from me for the past few years! Crazy right. She also created a facebook page for the Turner family years ago and that’s where many of them share photos and keep up with one another. Erma-Lee and I chatted via text, then she added me to the Turner family facebook page and told me to introduce myself. I can’t lie, I was nervous, but I did it anyway. Although, I’m blood related I didn’t know how or if they would receive me after all these years. Boy, was I wrong! They swarmed and cocooned me with loads upon loads upon loads of love. They instantly started greeting me, calling, texting, messaging and connecting the lineage dots for me, it was a wirlwind experience. I’m still digesting it all.
This whole experience hasn’t even been a month in yet and I’ve already driven down to Elizabeth City, NC to see Jannie. I had to get to her fast because she became an important piece of this journey and I had to hug her and see her face. I love her so much.
Finding Jannie, allowed me to connect with other relatives on my father’s side that I never met or knew. I can’t even begin to tell ya’ll how wild and exciting this journey has been. Although this is a long a** post, I’m having trouble putting the emotions that I feel into words. I’ve traced relatives allllll the way back to the 1700’s on both sides and I’m still digging. Findings on my mother’s side has been equally as rewarding. I found out that my mother’s father’s sister is Georgia-Mae Dunston–The first black PHD in the genome field of science and Founder Of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University where she stills teaches and sphereheads after 30+ years. PHENOMENAL RIGHT!!! That’s a seperate post all in itself.
Ok, back to my dad’s side…
Me, my brother Casey aka “Caine”, my father and my uncle Anthony drove down to Elizabeth City and started linking with family. It was a grand time! I loved it so much that I even considered moving there for a second lol.
We stayed a few hours, connected with who we could that are still left and residing in E.C., then came back and popped up on another one of my dad’s brother’s that I never knew–Uncle Vincent (pictured below). Remember earlier when I said that my father’s mother got all BUT 3 of her children back from foster care? Well, Vincent was one that she never got back. His life testimony is heart breaking and hearing him share it to us yesterday forced tears to cascade down my face. It was a lot to take in. Another wild fact…he lives 3 mins from me, I pass his house daily and never knew he was my dad’s brother.
FAMILY is important….we are all we got. God connected us by blood for a reason and if your family is scattered then it’s time to gather them back. This journey is just begining for us and If I got anything to do with it—the best is yet to come!