MadameNoire Featured Video

It’s no surprise that I became a journalist. I was the kid who didn’t really say much but I was always staring observing. And if I had an opportunity to ask people questions? It was over. I’d have folks pinned up in a corner for hours if they’d let me just trying to get information. And the person who entertained my inquires the most was my grandmother. After everyone else had gone to bed, my grandmother, who didn’t sleep a lot in her old age, and I would sit up discussing her life. I was fascinated with my grandmother’s Jamaicanness. The accent, the food, the passion with which she delivered every sentence, the bluntness I couldn’t get from anyone else, I lived for it. And the woman was funny…hilarious actually.

It would be an understatement to say that I found my grandmother completely enchanting. And so not so surprisingly, I really clung to the West Indian side of my heritage. I was born in the Indianapolis, Indiana, a completely landlocked state, far removed from anybody’s island but I made strides to educate myself in the country and, my friends can tell you, that I still rep Jamaica like I’m from there. When I went to visit my grandmother’s niece, who was born in Jamaica, she marveled at the way I was “nyamming the rice and peas like yuh born Jamaica.” I had to let her know I am Jamaican. Even if the rest of y’all don’t see it as such.

And even though there isn’t hard evidence on my grandmother’s side, (I don’t know anyone past her parents.), I feel very connected. My grandfather, who is also Jamaican, has branches and branches on the family tree.

As for my father’s side, one of my aunts, who actually married into the family, did the research on the paternal side of our family. Though I haven’t taken strides in reviewing it, there’s a comfort in knowing that it’s there–somewhere–when I’m ready for it.

Regrettably, I didn’t share the same closeness to my dad’s mother like I did with my maternal grandmother. Partially because of her illness and my own immaturity at the time. But luckily, my aunt, my grandmother’s sister wrote a book about her childhood, including names of her parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. As I’ve learned from my dabbling in ancestry research, names and birthdays can be very important. I’m ashamed to say I’ve started the book and it’s still sitting on my shelf, unfinished.

But in my defense, because I’m truly ashamed of not having finished my aunt’s book, when I learned that we were partnering with, I made an effort to search my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. Just seeing the census records, listing my paternal great grandfather, pictured in the center, or his wife as 3 year old children brought tears to my eyes. I can’t explain why seeing their names in these handwritten records, along with their literacy levels and the occupations of their parents was so emotional for me. The only explanation is that these records make our ancestors more real. And when our ancestors become real, it makes us think about the fact that they had lives and faced challenges that allowed us to be here today. It’s validation, proof that your ancestors existed and mattered.

One little piece of information had me on until 3 am, building and building upon it, knowing I had to be up early in the morning.

I feel no shame saying I’m thirsty for this information. So many African Americans can only trace their roots back to the south. And that’s just not enough any more.

As a child it had always been a dream of mine to visit an African country…any African country. I just wanted to put my feet down somewhere on the continent. In 2008-09, I visited Ghana through a program with my school. And naturally, I was wearing a Kingston, Jamaica t-shirt. I was shopping in one of the markets and a man who I was buying from, noticed my shirt and said, “There’s a connection between Jamaica and Ghana you know?” I didn’t. But I had certainly noticed parallels in the food, features and customs. I loved Ghana just because it was something I could cling to, another link in the chain.

I’ll be surprised if, when my results come back, Ghana is not one of the countries listed.

But it doesn’t matter which countries pop up. I’ll just be happy to know more about my background and therefore more about myself.

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