Wednesday, 29 March 2017

My Own Multicultural Family-- New Chapter in Life

Living in the United States right now sometimes seems threatening and scary. If you are in a different political party from the leadership of our country, well, its difficult. I think I might understand how a country breaks into Civil War. My own family is strongly divided regarding political issues, and it is easy to lose hope for our country.  Then you pick your head up, look around, and see that many good things are still going on.  Grassroot movements from like-minded folks can provide hope for the future.  Recently I joined a “movement”  in a nonpolitical way, --a "movement" that brings people of different races together in a very personal way that changed my perspective for the better--I found some new family members, or they found me --and it opened all kinds of new doors and windows for my heart and soul.

I now have African American cousins, proved by DNA!  My DNA ethnicity report said I had no African genes, so how is this possible?  Shame producing for me, I discovered that my ancestors who were enslavers in the first two hundred years of our country, had also produced slaves themselves at times, therefore  giving me cousins who are African American  descendants of slaves! To be clear, I am not shamed or embarrassed, but proud of having African American cousins. I am shamed by the actions of some of my ancestors!  Amazingly, some of these folks and I match DNA with common ancestors from the 1700’s that we can identify!  A multicultural family--how wonderful-- I already had a multinational one as a melting pot American.

Previously, I had helped do research for some slave recognition projects, so I was somewhat aware of how difficult it is to do genealogical research if your ancestors were enslaved.  They lost their own names, and were not listed on censuses until 1870.  They were listed on property tax lists, but then often only in numbers, like “20 males under  age 30”. When names were listed, it was often only first names.  What I was not aware of, is what a national movement had grown and was growing, to identify slaves and their families!  The cousins who contacted me were lightyears ahead of me in their research, and in knowing how to go about researching their ancestors. It is interesting, because I knew other African American genealogists, and counted them among my friends. But suddenly, this was my family-- my family, and I wanted to know who they were and how we were related as well!  DNA and genealogical research to the rescue. My learning curve has been sharp and sudden, but interesting !  The wealthy, Southern plantation owners I’d always admired were suddenly tarnished.  Tarnished because not only did the people they “owned” become real to me, they were my own flesh and blood--and they were the flesh and blood of my ancestors who bred them for slaves! Disgusting. But it is true, and it is history, and now we are dealing with it.  How wonderful to have the opportunity to “deal with it” by meeting new family members whose skin might be a different color, but who are smart, kind, and interested in some of the same things I am, family!

Their African American research was far ahead of mine, but I had done my own ancestral work, so we were able to connect, at least by family pretty quickly.  Before I met this group, I did not even know the name Hairston for instance.  But they were one of the largest slave owning families of the Southern United States.  Several branches of my family married into theirs.  I quickly learned about the book titled The Hairstons, An American Family in Black and White.  By Henry Wiencek. The book discusses the national and regional reunions of the amazing descendants of the Hairstons, both black and white.

Henry Wiencek says in this book,

“For the Hairstons, family is serious business -- so serious, they're incorporated. The annual reunion of the national Hairston Clan, Inc. looks more like a convention than a typical family gathering. There are ministers and musicians, doctors and lawyers, big city bankers and small town barbers. And there are flag-waving patriots like World War II veteran Joe Henry Hairston.

Says Joe Henry: "When you meet all these Hairstons, you got nuts, you got saints, you got beautiful people, you got ugly people. But they're all family."

Not all of these Hairstons are connected by blood, but they are all connected by sweat and tears. They are named Hairston primarily because their ancestors worked on plantations owned by one of the biggest names in slavery.

When American history writer Henry Wiencek was researching a book on plantations, he was invited to a Hairston reunion.

"There were nearly 1,000 people," says Wiencek. "I was just amazed at the strength of family feeling that could bring so many people together from so many distant places, and I wondered where did that family strength come from, and where were the roots of that gathering. Did it go back all the way to slavery? And that's where it did go."

The Hairstons so intrigued him that he spent the next eight years delving into its history. The result is his book: The Hairstons: An American Family In Black and White."

In 1999, CBS Television did a feature regarding the Hairston family.  They told the stories of several descendants of slaves of the Hairstons and their white cousins.  You can see a video of this feature on youtube at:

They said some things I have thought, like this:

“The black and white Hairstons are connected by the worst evil in America's history, but they have not turned their backs on each other. Because like it or not, they are family. They share a name, and a place, and a history.”

“In an amazing bit of detective work, Henry Wiencek traced Joe Henry's roots back to a slave named Sal, purchased in 1785 for a barrel of tobacco. From a family will, he figured out that the Peter Hairston, who died in 1832, had children by this slave named Sal, which means that the great great great grandfather of the judge is also the great great great grandfather of Joe Henry. "Well, we were property and so masters used their property," says Joe Henry.

The two men have not discussed this subject. "I consider Judge Peter a friend, a very good friend, and a very fine person," says Joe Henry. "But these are things you don't talk about in polite society in the South."

At first, the judge believed that there wasn't enough evidence to prove that he was related to Joe Henry Hairston. Joe Henry, who is also an attorney, was also skeptical.

Recently, though, the Judge changed his mind. "I have learned from my brother that he had had a conversation with an ancient cousin of ours that indeed it was probably true." So now the Judge has a new cousin. "I'm prouder to be kin to Joe Henry than to anybody else I know," he says.

And Joe Henry has no hard feelings. "I am the product of my ancestors, whoever they were," he says. "My basic philosophy is not to hate. Hate is destructive."

One of my new cousins ended up  being a superb genealogical researcher, who also writes for this very blog--Yvette Porter Moore. Isn’t that amazing!  Along with others, she encouraged me to research the Hairstons, and other families we had in common, the Tates, Callaways, Stovalls, Kimbrough, Turner, and Graves to name just a few! Except for the Hiarstons, I had the others already in my family tree.

I learned that Ruth Stovall, 1730-1808, my 5th Great Aunt, daughter of my 5th great grandfather, George Stovall, Sr. 1695 Henrico, Virginia - 1786, Campbell County, Virginia. USA; married Robert Hairston, b. In Ireland, d in Virginia, 1719-1791.  Their son, my first cousin George Hairston, 1750-1827, built a mansion plantation house  in Henry County, Virginia.  More accurately, slaves built this beautiful house, slaves whose descendants I now know as cousins!  Incredible!  Wikipedia says this about George Hairston and his plantation “Beaver Creek”.  

“Beaver Creek Plantation, under the ownership of George Hairston, was a large slave-holding tobacco plantation and the center of an empire in tobacco-growing and slave-trading built by the Hairston family, Scottish emigrants to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century. Located just outside today’s Martinsville, Virginia, the plantation thrived in tobacco production and textile manufacturing, as well as producing household goods and raising livestock. At one point the enslaved blacks of Beaver Creek were tending a thousand yam plants; in one day they made 660 candles.

Beaver Creek was built in 1776 by George Hairston, son of Robert Hairston and Ruth Stovall Hairston, on a 30,000-plus acre royal land grant initially purchased from Col. Abram Penn. The original house was destroyed by fire in 1837 and was rebuilt by George Hairston's son Marshall.

Builders of Beaver Creek, the Hairston family eventually came to control tens of thousands of acres of land in Virginia, North Carolina and elsewhere across the South. Initially planters of tobacco, the family eventually became the largest slaveholders in the South: the engine of their extraordinary wealth (they were said to be one of the wealthiest families in America) was the propagation of slaves for export to the Deep South. The family married into other prominent local families, including several intermarriages with the descendants of General Joseph Martin, for whom Martinsville is named. George Hairston, who married his cousin Matilda Martin, daughter of Col. William Martin and Susan (Hairston) Martin, represented the district in Congress .

The Hairston family descends from Peter Hairston, who left Scotland for America, initially locating in Pennsylvania and eventually moving south to Virginia in the 1740s."

Hordsville, built 1836 by George Hairston, Henry County, Virginia

Ultimately, the fallout from the Civil War, chiefly the emancipation of slaves, put an end to the Hairston's booming business and the family's fortunes dwindled. At the center of the Plantation is the Hairston’s classical revival mansion. Although the plantation was founded in 1776, the present house was not built until 1837, to replace the original home destroyed in a fire. Today, the house is owned by Bank Services of Virginia, and the home and gardens are usually open to the public during the Historic Garden Week in Virginia.”

Some of the living descendants of Hairston slaves are Jester and Jerry Hairston. “Jester Hairston was the first African-American to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. For most of this century he has been teaching white folks and black folks to sing spirituals the way his grandmother sang them as a slave on a Hairston plantation in North Carolina.”

“When Jerry Hairston stepped up to the plate last season, the Hairstons stepped into the history books as the first black family to play major league baseball for three generations. His father and grandfather also played in the majors.”

Among the many other things I’ve learned in my most recent new journey, I’ve learned about an organization I’d like to join. It is called “Coming to the Table” . I learned about this group from a blog titled Bitter Sweet, Linked Through Slavery. I want to tell you a bit about it, and about the blog which you can find at this link:

“Coming to the Table (CTTT) was founded by descendants of enslavers and enslaved people, in partnership with the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. CTTT was inspired by the vision of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” speech made during the 1963 March on Washington, that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” CTTT values the sharing of personal, family and community stories as a powerful vehicle for uncovering history, building relationships, healing and inspiring action.

CTTT provides leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from a racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.

The organization was launched in January 2006 at Eastern Mennonite University. The idea for the inaugural gathering came from Will Hairston and Susan Hutchison, both European American descendants of historic American enslaving families. CTTT was nurtured by Amy Potter Czajkowski, on the staff of The Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, who obtained the initial grant funding. Amy and David Anderson Hooker, a faculty member in the Summer Peace Building Institute, took the lead in developing the Coming to the Table approach and model for addressing historically-based racism. Free copies of the manual can be downloaded from CTTT Resources.

Besides its website, CTTT hosts a Facebook page, a Twitter account [@] and has a presence on YouTube. There are several local gathering groups where members of Coming to the Table meet in person; in the Mid-Atlantic region, the Northeast, San Francisco/Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, DC.”

“BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery is a working group of bloggers who are members of the non-profit group Coming to the Table (CTTT). We call ourselves “linked descendants,” people who have a joint history in slavery–a pairing of a descendant of an enslaved person with a descendant of his or her slaveholder, who have found each other and who are in communication.

We bring a passionate commitment to looking deeply at the truth of the history of enslavement at the heart of the founding of the United States, facing the pains and schisms embedded in that history and its present day legacy, seeking reconciliation, if possible, and supporting action to open eyes and hearts and to dismantle institutionalized racism.

While the BitterSweet group consists of people who know about their personal and family historical connections to enslavement, as descendants of enslaved people and of slaveholders, we welcome those who are looking for their connection to slavery, those who are curious about the legacy of slavery whether they feel a personal connection or not, and those who have stories to share.”

“Crawford Plantation, Lowndes County, Mississippi, home of George W. Hairston, c. 1909. Part of the empire of Hairston homes and plantations scattered about the South.”

In our own little group of multicultural cousins on facebook, we have amazing people ! We have several authors and genealogists, teachers, a Chief Warrant Officer, a Chief Marketing Advisor and Design Strategist from Harvard, and many more talented people, keeping up the tradition of amazing descendants regardless of race. How blessed I feel to be counted in their family, our family.

Have a great week,
Helen Y. Holshouser, writing at and on facebook.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Ireland Research Hopes Revisited

My turn to blog is a wee bit after St Patrick's Day but the thought of researching the Irish ancestors is not bound by time.

My Irish quest has been begging to start for years. Recently due to a DNA find, I have been sent on a new Irish quest when an O'Toole turned up as an ancient DNA match for our Langley DNA project.
I have felt intimidated by the challenge of delving into the films on FamilySearch or Ireland, and just trying to sort out all the Michaels, Williams, and Margrets that I see when I go to FindMyPast or other Irish sites...words escape me. One thing I do know and follow is...the obvious search for our ancestors begins with a name, and, if you have it, a place. On the Hero's and my mom's side of the family there are many Irish names to look for.
There are some blogs and websites that specialize in Ireland research
Smallest Leaf is one of those. She has so much Irish information and many books listed on her blog. It is wonderful to stop by and browse. Click here to see her blog.
Another site I really like it Irish Genealogy Tool Kit.
I like these because I need someone to give me direction. I am so ingrained in United States research it will take some shift in my paradigms to hopefully finds some success in venturing into Ireland research.
What I have done so far...
I started making a note of all the names I was looking for, variants of the names, and places the names were found.  An example for the is : A Rootsweb site for Researching Irish Names. I searched for Magill from my mom's ancestors. They were adamant in the 1830's per a letter written by John Magill that their family was the only ones who spelled it that way.
"...I have been particular so that you may know if you meet with any person of the name of Magill you can tell whether they are your relation. I have seen several from Ireland that are no kin of mine. They spell their name McGill. They are generally native Irish and Roman Catholic. I recollect to have seen my grandfather's certificate from Ireland dated 1725. It was spelled Magill and all his descendants spell their names the same way. Any who do not are not of our kindred..."  Click here to read the rest of the transcribed letter.
My finding:
MacGiolla ancient of Magill,
Turning to my Hero's Irish ancestors, I was able to glean the following for his known surnames.
Death certificates helped with clues as to where the places were correct.

FURLONG              Wexford
FURLONG              Wicklow
O'AHERN,               Cork
O'DWYER              Tipperary
Dwyer                      Lemerick
Dyer                         Sligo

I have toyed with learning Gaelic, but I haven't gotten that far yet.
Besides knowing the surname, I discovered that the old Irish had a naming pattern. Most but not all used it. The Irish Tool Kit website points out that in the 1700s and 1800s those that immigrated to America did use this...making it hard to sort out the descendants when 5 brother, in the same area named their sons in the same pattern (true experience). I have posted on the naming patterns before click here to read the post then click back to return.

I have ascribed to the method of looking to others who have already done research reading how to find records in Ireland, talking to people who have UK experience in searching, and utilizing the free course on I take the time to watch videos by those who have done the walk such as David Rencher's videos Tips for Researching your Irish Ancestors. I HAVE to mention the's Irish Collection which includes images... Ireland Historical Records.

There is something so exciting in searching for families that have been apart for years and reuniting them. I love genealogy research and have been excited to share how to research and source with the upcoming generation to get them involved in their history to know their ancestors. So Far, it has been a positive experience for both generations. 😉