Finding information about long gone relatives has become easy for many, thanks to websites created for that purpose. But when it comes to searching for black ancestors, it’s a different story. Enslaved people were never listed on the U.S. census, and hundreds of years have passed, but determined researchers are finding family connections, long lost to history and re-acquainting people with their families.
A small cabin on property now owned by Virginia Tech, was once home to people who were enslaved –and until recently— so was the memory of their experience, that is, until Baltimore writer, Kerri Moseley-Hobbs searched for and found people all over the country whose ancestors had lived and labored there. One of their descendants is Suquethea Jones. The VT Stories Oral History Project recorded Jones when she visited the property recently. “I felt like my ancestors were reaching out to me in spirit like, ‘You found us!’ I thought it was just a handful of us on my mom’s side of the family. We found out we go back seven generations, and where that come from, and how many children came from those different lines, it’s amazing. I feel blessed to know my history and that I know where I come from.”
Jessica Taylor teaches public history at Virginia Tech. She says. “Searching for black ancestors in the United States can be difficult and painful. Slavery separated families. Records may not show if and where an individual was enslaved and if it does, much of the landscape has changed over centuries.” Fortunately, the old slave cabin remained on the property, formerly owned by the Preston Family. It fell into disrepair over the centuries, but now it has been restored and will be preserved. It is now officially called, “The Fraction Family House at Solitude,” named not only for the family of enslaved people who lived there, by the last name of ‘Fraction’ but also comprising the hundreds of others whose names have been lost, who also lived and worked on the property. More than 200 people where enslaved for more than 200 years, including members of Jones’s family.
“I always felt a void, still felt a longing to be connected to something.” Said Jones. “But to find out that my little, immediate family is much bigger, and I’m close to the folks that I’ve found, my distant cousins, I feel that void is filled a little. I don’t feel as lonely. I have my two daughters, but there are people out there who care about me and who love me and appreciate me. I always felt a void. I still felt a longing and I feel that void is filled a little. We were lost and now we’re found.”
The, Virginia Tech Board of Visitors has memorialized the tiny three-room building, which is now a site for the interpretation of the African-American experience on campus and the region.”
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