Blog Carnival – “The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On”
As stated on the LowCountry Africana website, In honor of StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening, the Preservinators (Angela Walton-Raji, George Geder and LowCountry Africana) have reunited to bring you “The Ancestors Told; the Elders Listened; We Pass It On,” a blog carnival that’s all about oral history. I am extremely excited to participate in this event.
Remembering Family Oral History Changed My Life!
I am quick to tell you “I really don’t have any family oral history. I am just piecing things together as I go along. No one has told me anything.”
This morning, while sitting and sipping my coffee, I pondered what to write about for this blog carnival because “I don’t have any family oral history” and no one to interview. Then I thought “dah” the most important family event in my life could not have happened without the bits and pieces of family oral history that my mom had passed to me over the years. It had never occurred to me to think of it in that way. Little bits of info like “Tolbert” isn’t really your name, it should be “Taliaferro” but your father pronounced it “Toliver”, and your father had a “brother” who had two “daughters” and other things that I had not thought of in terms of it being oral history.
Sometimes you may think you have nothing, but you really have all that you need. The story below is not new. I wrote it some years ago when Ancestry.com was seeking stories about African American genealogy research. I also posted it on my blog in 2009; it was one of the stories published in Anne Bradshaw’s True Miracles with Genealogy Volume One; and was in the February 19, 2007, issue of Jet Magazine. What is new, however, is my perspective. I’m reposting my story today because it seems a perfect fit for this blog carnival spotlighting oral history. It is packed with references to my family oral history. It was those bits and pieces of “oral history” passed on to me by my mother that helped me connect to my Taliaferro family. Thinking in terms of oral history, I’m seeing my story in a whole new light. If I had not known those little pieces of my history, my story might be quite different.
I never knew my father. Those words had haunted me for all of my childhood, and most of my adult life. As an African-American, the possibility of tracing my paternal ancestry was never an avenue I thought to pursue with any success. A cursory search on Ancestry.com under the surname “Tolbert” did not yield any results that fit the few facts that I had learned over the years. I assumed I would not be able to find anything. On day, while looking through some old photos and papers, I discovered two telegrams dated the day I was born. Both contained the surname “Taliaferro.” This triggered something. I had a vague memory of my mother telling me about my birth and the hospital spelling my father’s last name incorrectly. I remembered that from an early age, I knew that my father’s correct surname was “Taliaferro” not Tolbert as stated on my birth certificate, and that he pronounced it “Toliver.” This, I assumed accounted for the hospital’s mistake. I also knew from conversations with my mother, the names of my father’s mother and his siblings. Armed with these facts and a renewed determination I rejoined Ancestry.com and began another search.
This time around, I was able to locate my father with his parents (my grandparents!) and brother and sister in the 1930 census. All the names fit with my information. What a thrill! Searching back, I was able to locate my grandfather and his parents (my great grandparents!) in the 1920, 1910, 1900 and 1880 census records. I also found my great grandparents in the 1870 census. A few households away there was another Taliaferro (Toliver) family. Could that family be my great, great grandparents? I felt fairly confident that all the relatives I had found so far were my ancestors, but there was no way to connect this last family from the 1870 census to my ancestors.
I turned to the Taliaferro message board on Ancestry.com in hopes of finding someone researching my Taliaferros. I went through each message one by one and then……BINGO. Someone was looking for any relatives of my father’s parents. I could not believe my tired eyes. It turns out that this message was posted by my father’s brother’s daughter in June of 1999. (The name fit with one my mother had given me). She was no longer a member of Ancestry. Good luck in finding her, right? Well, I did. Right here in the same city and state that I live. I did a search for her name, found several and decided to send a letter to each one in hopes of finding the author of the query on the message board. She turned out to be the very first person I sent a letter to. Must have been meant to be! After an initial email and phone conversation, she sent me an article written on our grandfather which confirmed all the names I had found in the census records. This article also confirmed that the male Taliaferro living in the household near my great-grandfather in the 1870 census was, in fact, my great, great-grandfather! I have now been able to trace that great, great-grandfather and his son (my great-grandfather) to their slaveholder family here in Georgia.
I finally discovered the family of the father I never knew. I could not have asked for more, but I did get more. After contacting that cousin from the message board, I had a new family from my paternal side; 4 first cousins, an aunt (my father’s sister) and a brother!!!!
My brother, Bernard and I officially met each other in July 2005. We have been basically inseparable since that day. On our first meeting it was an instant connection. In 2006 Bernard moved backed to Atlanta to live we me. He is my best friend and my protector. We are without a doubt soul mates. He grew up with our father, and is able to share memories of him with me. Somehow we both know that it was our father that led me to him; at just the right time in our lives. In September 2005, I legally changed my surname to Taliaferro; a long overdue correction of a life-altering mistake. I had never felt complete, but didn’t know why. I always felt something was missing. That missing link was my family-my true identity.