I found you! Kunta Kinte! I found you!
— Alex Haley, Roots: The Next Generations
I remember very well watching both Roots and Roots: The Next Generations when I was in my teens. I think in some ways, watching the story of Alex Haley’s ancestry unfold planted some of the first seeds for my own interest in family history. I just watched the ending of the sequel to make sure I had the quote above correct, and got to again experience the elation expressed by James Earl Jones as Alex Haley when he discovered that he had indeed found the people from which his ancestor, Kunta Kinte had been taken from. Even more touching though, was the scene where Haley was about to leave when a young man came running up. It turned out that this man was a long-lost cousin of his, and the two men embraced as Haley broke down, sobbing with the overwhelming emotions he must have felt.
This past year, our only niece graduated from high school in Michigan. Unfortunately, our budget didn’t allow the two of us to be at her graduation or open house. However, we were able to afford a plane ticket so she could visit her aunt and uncle in California. She came to visit us in August, about a month before she started college.
The first weekend she was here, Bill came back from the mailbox and handed me a large, thick, manila envelope. I took one look at the return address, and I got excited.
I contained my excitement enough to open the envelope without ripping the contents. Though I wanted to go through the documents in more detail at some point, my goal the first time through was to skim through to see if I could find any mention of my Aunt Bunny.
So, through the pages I went, as fast as I could go without missing any mention of a name. Place names were popping up on every page. Street names were familiar; Knickerbocker Avenue, Genesee Avenue, and Wheeler Drive were all places I knew the family had lived at one time or another. Then came places that my Uncle was stationed like Korea, Casablanca, Texas, Michigan, and others.
It wasn’t until almost the very last pages in the packet that I found what I was looking for. On the page, the typing was very faint, so it was hard to read. “7 Jan 52: Amn (Airman) married Miss Ethel….”
Ethel? Was Aunt Bunny’s real name Ethel? There was one way to find out. I went in and changed the name on my records at Ancestry.com and I got a new leaf!
One of the things I was pointed to were some family trees, and a few of them had a picture attached to their record of Ethel. It was a picture that I had never posted on Ancestry.com, but it excited me even more when I saw it.
I was certain that whoever had this picture was a member of the family somehow. I just didn’t know who. It could be one of my cousins, or it could be another relative of my Aunt. I was hoping that whoever it was would be able to help me find Aunt Bunny and my cousins.
So, to the two people who I saw with the picture, I sent an email. Basically I said that I had come across the name in my Uncle’s separation paperwork, that I had seen the picture and it matched one my father had given to me, and asked how they might be related and that I was trying to find out if my Aunt and cousins were still living, and if so, would there be a way to get in touch with them by email or phone. I did not include any names in my email at the time.
The first person I sent the message to didn’t respond for a few days, and while they were helpful, they were not a relative of mine (it was a relative from Bunny’s side of the family though). The second person I sent the message to was the first to respond. The reply was brief, but thrilling:
Bunny was my mother. Who was your uncle?
I had my own little Alex Haley moment when I read that. I found you! Cousin! I found you! I immediately wrote back, this time filling in the details so that she knew exactly who I was talking about. I eventually was given contact information for all my cousins. I also found out that the two oldest actually were Bunny’s children from a previous marriage, so they are not actually blood relatives, though I still consider them to be my cousins.
Unfortunately, I found out my Aunt Bunny passed away a few years ago. It was the one sad thing amid this joyous moment.
The greatest thing though was that while my niece was still with us, we were able to talk on the phone with one of my cousins. He actually had been the one that, several years before had called around to find my Dad, and they both unfortunately lost touch with each other after that brief re-connection. I was able to put them back in touch with each other, and my cousin visited Michigan last fall to spend time with my Dad. My brother and his family also got to meet him. I am hoping that I will get to meet him and my other cousins soon.
So, I had met the challenge my Dad had originally set for me; it took just over a year to do it. By tracing our roots, I had just discovered a branch on our tree that had been hidden from view. While that portion of the journey was over, my adventuring in ancestry was just getting started!