Black women are often the family historians. I have learned this especially with the tradition of taking, receiving and archiving photographs in black families. When I asked my husband this morning if he wanted me to track his genealogy as well, he replied, “I am not really one for history.” I never thought I was either. My penchant for “History” usually dates back to 1979, both the year of my birth and the birth of commercial hip-hop (though I am a “soul” child at heart). However, this morning I have been doing some digging, and . . . well, I may just fill out my census form after all.
On ancestry.com I found my great, great, great-grandmother, Pleasant McFatter. She was, as of the 1900 Census, a 62-year-old resident of Spring Hill Township, NC. She had 12 children, including my great, great-grandmother, Mary McFatter, who was herself a single-parent of 6. Pleasant was a washwoman and Mary a day-laborer (Though they had both been out of work for 2-3 of the last six months.) Neither woman could read nor write. The widowed Pleasant rented her home, where her daughter and four grandchildren resided, including Henry, my great-grandfather.
I have never, until today, known this history, or any history of my paternal side, back any further then my great-grandfather’s generation, and even his name was unknown to me. My great-grandmother Lou, who my father knew well, was Henry’s wife. Once she told my father that she fled from North Carolina to New York after having murdered my great-grandfather because he was abusive to her. I did find Henry McFatter’s death record and he died at the curiously young age of 29, though no record of the cause of death was noted.
Part “fact” and part “legend” these histories become the makeup of who we are, though they are often so distant and silenced in the present . . .
Tanji is a wife and mother of three. She has two boys and one girl. She lives in Philadelphia, her favorite chocolate city. She is an educator and her first “baby” is now a Howard University graduate and a Cocoa Mama.