By Ernie McCray
Donya Williams, the four-times great-granddaughter of a man named Moses Williams, asked me if I would help draw attention to some research she and a cousin are doing titled: Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Genetic Genealogy Project.
So I started reading a bio she sent me of their work and can’t help but think they already know what they’re doing.
I was barely into reading other information when the names Strom Thurmond, 50 Cent, Al Sharpton, and L.L. Cool J jumped out at me – names I wouldn’t ever expect to appear in the same sentence.
I mean what could a white Southern senator who loves the KKK and a man who raps, “There’s no business like ho business” and a melodramatic Baptist preacher “Keepin’ it Real” and the creator of “Mama Said Knock You Out” possibly have in common?
Well, they’re all from Edgefield, South Carolina. And they’re all in one way or another related to the cousins. When this project is completed I want to hear that story.
Back to Moses, their great-great-great-great-granddad. Seeing that he was born in 1769 I guessed correctly that he had been a slave. I wouldn’t have guessed, however, that he lived to be 115 years old.
And before I could utter a “wow” regarding his longevity, considering the brutalities and hardships he surely must have suffered as human property, I noticed he had fathered 45 children. At that point my “wow” became very much alive.
Then I started making quick assumptions, thinking that 45 children would mean a lot of leads but I learned that’s not necessarily the case. Slaves and their descendants couldn’t appear in census records until the 1870 census and all the children were born between 1786 and 1836, 40 of whom are female and hard to track due to marriage at an early age and the subsequent changing of names.
So these cousins have some painstaking research to get done, especially since I’ve gotten the sense, reading their plans, that they want to portray their predecessors the way they lived and breathed — human beings who had flaws and strengths and failures and accomplishments.
They’re making it happen, though. They’ve found various enslavers of Moses and information on nine of his 45 children and on a host of grand and great-grandchildren.
From the truths they’re finding they’re trying to create a film documentary that tracks their steps through this learning process.
To succeed in their venture they need to: purchase DNA kits; hire a small team of genetic specialists to triangulate the DNA results and a small team of professional genealogists and/or local historians as part of the research team; digitize the genealogical records that are found; pay for travel and accommodation to enable on-site genealogy records research; publicly share their findings through in-school talks, various conferences and seminars…and the list goes on.
They, and I agree, believe that as a society increases its understanding of its collective history it might be able to get past the constructs of race, ethnicity, culture, religious beliefs, socioeconomic and educational attainment and so on that divide us and begin to realize that through our innumerable life stories and experiences we just might have more in common than we think.
And maybe our histories can guide us with respect to how we approach the future as human beings.
Along these lines Williams wrote in her appeal that often you hear African Americans, in particular, say that they have no history, no culture because it was all taken away.
But “[t]he Moses Williams Genetic Genealogy Project proves this to be false,” she says as she clarifies how America’s race-based system of human bondage has had an effect on all people that still resonates today.
It’s her hope that the project will play a role in ensuring that “all” of American history is learned properly and in full so that we can realize how wonderful and worthy of equality we all are.
As an educator, I can sure get behind such sentiment. I wish Williams and her cousin, Brian, well. Their bios get into how their interest in genealogy was born and highlights the dedication they’ve already given to finding out about themselves and their combined trans-African, African, European, East Asian, Jewish, and Native American ancestry. How many stories can there be in such a mixture and range of ethnicities?
I’d like to see Moses Williams’ history live on as inspiration for generations to come, and it was in this spirit I made a donation to their research. Feel free to join me by visiting their GoFundMe page, which can be found here.