Tracing Black Family History, via Black Nuns

This post is even more relevant now, than two years ago:

Tracing one’s family, particularly a family full of mostly Enslaved Persons, and some Free People of Color (free before the Civil War and subject to the Black Codes in most states), means learning the language of genealogy, and then learning your own family language, with names that run in families, especially middle names, and have certain meanings known only to the inner circle at that time. In order to survive, each of those People of Color had to decide and choose which hill they wanted to die upon: the hill of passing for White, in some cases, despite loosing family to do so, the hill of fighting to educate Colored people, despite the many hurtles, as my 2xs great grandfather and his daughter, in her turn, did, or the hill, today, of bearing the torch to help educate all people, as many of us are choosing in this difficult time.

What hill do you choose to die on? Building or choosing ‘Found Family’ for me is about connecting deeply and personally with other folks who share my values, as my great Aunt Sr. Mary Felix Manzilla did, when she joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first Catholic sisterhood open to Colored women, in 1914. I seek to help build community that honors safety and Enough for All, and is willing to die upon the hill of Empathy and Compassion, fighting for Everyone to have Enough of Everything

(… taking a quick “station break” for some Standing Action Items on that:
1.) Tell your local Transit Board to build more Light Rail stops,
2.) Tell your local city council to hire more librarians, add social workers and nurses to the library staff, and add washing stations to Public Library bathrooms,
3.) Ask your Community College Provost to give free classes on State Law Basics covering local land, property, contract and Statutes of Limitations laws (with shuttle bus service from poor neighborhoods!),
4.) Ask your State Senators and Reps to pass Universal Health Care in your state, and tell your Congressmen to do likewise at the Federal level.

that Every Human Being needs to live with human dignity. But I seek that community as one looking to build personal family connections, to walk, to teach, and eat together, to look after one another and if necessary, to die for and with one another. In other words, Family, like my great aunt found, with the OSP.

Please consider the people and institutions linked above, and

Action Items:

1.)    Share your Hill, if you wish.

2.)     Simply Google your town’s Mass Transit Authority, to see if you have a Light Rail.  Then, if you have one, ask them to expand it!  🙂  If not, ask them how a simple and cheap trolley or light rail line could be put in.


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36 thoughts on “Tracing Black Family History, via Black Nuns

      1. On a whim I tried looking up my maternal grandfather after whom I was named. Nothing yet. It’s tradition here to name one’s offspring after grandmothers and fathers. My poor older sister is lumped with three names, all long ones, after both grandmothers. Wilhelmina became Wilma – much lighter and easier on the tongue!

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Oh great. My search for my maternal grandfather turned up zilch. Learned what the name meant … Groenewald: Dutch for Green Forest. I like that! They were simple folks. He worked on a mine and died of a lung disease picked up in the mines.

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  1. I revisited this post. I live in a very small town, population max 4000 (and a bit perhaps). There are no robots (traffic lights) and the railway through here has been discontinued many years ago. You will know about South Africa and Apartheid’s history. The town is very divided along racial lines, to this day. The poorer side of town, entirely black or coloured people, had to start their own, informal little library, housed at a church. The municipal (little) library didn’t allow too many black members, unless they were well off. The school students are allowed to sit at the tables and study, are allowed to use the newly installed internet facility though. I would wish free membership to poorer members of the community, perhaps even for everyone. The librarian used to allow me more books than the allotted four. When I started talking about the disparity between the white part of town and the poorer part of town she scaled me down to only four books and I wasn’t allowed to use the internet facility for longer than half hour. Even when there was no one else in the library but her and me.

    Necessarily the hill of compassion and equality then, for those who are (still) marginilised on the whim of one woman (with the support of the larger membership.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. First, thank you for standing up for truth, even when it hurts you. Next comes my reaction: WHAT?!! How can she do that??!! What is her fear of the truth, that she needs to censor you? I wonder if there is a way I can get folks here to send books to your local church library? I don’t have time to organize it, but if you have a contact person there at the church that I could ask folks to send books for your poorer side of town, do you think would that be useful?

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Come to think of it, for her, it was also a very heavy price. She knew, from her memoir ‘The Singing Heart,’ that she was born into a Methodist family, and that her father greatly despised Catholicism, yet took vows at about the age of 17-19, if memory serves (having gone into a Catholic orphanage at 14 yr old). It was those same Catholics who told her all of her life that her father had committed suicide when she knew he’d been murdered, and yet, to avoid wasting her intelligence as a maid (which census records show that she did so, in the house of a well off white family, as also mentioned in her memoir where the priest upbraids her mother for putting her into a unsafe work situation), she chose to take vows in the very institution which her father had said, years before, was one of the few evils from which the Negro race had been spared. So, it could not have been without a heavy heart that she entered the OSP, if she did indeed find community. At least, as directress of the school, she did use her mind to good effect.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on collaboration with learners and commented:
    “For us, Black Americans, it is so difficult to trace our families, and we have been so often taught to despise ourselves, our history, our blood lines, that it is not mere interest in where our families come from which is at point here, but rather, proving that we have had something to offer the world, and that we are not stupid, lazy, foolish entertainers, and mere tragic figures, that is the key in Black family history.”

    Liked by 1 person

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