Where do I come from? Where did my parents come from? Who am I? These are all instrumental questions for how the search for one’s roots begins.
The journey of finding out about family ancestry can start as a child with parents, grandparents and great-grandparents telling us stories of what the world they grew up in was like. These stories include great journeys from around the world and acts of valor in the fields of battle across the centuries. We hear about relatives who were community leaders, inventors, artists, teachers, nurses, and historians.
All of this gives us a sense of understanding and a sense of belonging.
Our WEXT DJ and AHA host Katie ‘KTG’ Gorham observed: ‘I have always been fascinated by the stories my Grandmother would share about our family’s travels across the country. No wonder I have such a serious case of wanderlust!’
This yearning to learn about our families can take years. Stephanie Brace of Schenectady has been researching her family’s history for over a decade. She and about 10 others shared their family stories at an AVillage Inc. meeting in Albany’s South End. Stephanie said she started her search to ‘know who I really was.’
But such an ancestral journey can start at any age. WMHT’s Joanne Shay, our Director of Data Management, just began digging through Ancestry.com in recent weeks. The 19-year veteran of WMHT said: ‘My mother’s heritage is a mystery I’m now trying to research.’
Over the past three months, dozens of residents around the Capital Region and beyond have shared their family histories and mysteries. Stories ranged from RISE manager Joyce Stah’s mint plant that dates back to 1800s Kentucky to News 10 ABC’s Lydia Kulbida’s past and current involvement in her Ukrainian church and dance group. Howard Glassman, owner of Low Beat in Albany, said he was born in Florida, but grew up at Gershon’s Deli and will forever have an affinity for that well-known deli and the Electric City.
At the Albany Institute of History and Art, beautiful moments and haunting stories were captured from residents of the Rapp Road Historic District. ‘I will never forget that,’ recalled Anne Pope of three black boys hung from a ‘hanging bridge’ for allegedly whistling at a white girl in Mississippi. Anne said that she grew up in a home in the south without running water, heat, or electricity. ‘That didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t know any different.’ She said that all 12 of the family’s children went on to get college degrees.
Beverly Bardequez is a third generation descendant of the Great Migration. Her parents bought a parcel of land on Rapp Road in the outskirts of Albany in 1944. Part of the land, she said, was cleared for corn, tomato, watermelons and cucumber. There was sleigh riding on Red Fox Hill, a chicken coop where the family collected ‘warm brown eggs’, and fruit trees and berry blushes aplenty. Crabapples were used to make pies and preserves and jellies. ‘In the winter, we had preserves for warm biscuits that my grandmother made faithfully every morning,’ Beverly fondly remembered of growing up on Rapp Road.
At the Bicentennial Exhibit opening at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in downtown Troy, residents shared their local and international family stories. Jack Casey recalled regional political stories and their ties to his family. Descendants of Garnet Douglass Baltimore, the first African American to graduate from RPI, talked about his role in designing Prospect Park and helping with the layout of Oakwood Cemetery.
This season of Finding Your Roots discussed pivotal topics of family loss, survival, and the surprises life has in store for us all. Including guests like LL Cool J, Bill O’Reilly, Dustin Hoffman, and Mia Farrow, you can catch up on Season 3 here: http://video.wmht.org/show/finding-your-roots/
What’s your story? #FindingYourRoots
Major corporate support for FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. Season Three is provided by Ancestry.com, Johnson & Johnson, POM and Ford. Support is also provided by the Ford Foundation, Candace King Weir, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.