A few years ago, I went on a journey to find my family roots. The journey was hard and long but I was determined. I was a Columbia University graduate with training in Anthropology and genealogy research, I was well prepared for the task. I knew that man records and conserves all informations on human society. The journey took me through and into the lives of an exciting family of people. Learning about great great great great grand father, Jacob DeBose, born into slavery in 1789, the year George Washington became president of the United States of America, and touching the graves of his son and grand son carefully cared for in a family plot in Gainesville Florida, I gained strength from validating the reality of my history and existence. Forget what the school books teach about African Americans, go search for your relatives, you will come away with a new sense of pride, I know I did.

           This paper will discuss the religious diversity reflected in the writer’s family, and how it is, to an extent a small mirror of the religious and cultural transformation-taking place in American society. As a genealogist, I have been able to trace my family roots in this country as far back as 1789. I like to say the year that George Washington was elected president of the United States; my great-great-great-great-great grand father was born. I have spent countless hours in the Mormon Church going through their extensive research archives. The Mormon Church has one of the largest genealogy research data systems recording information of millions of the world’s diverse populations. This database is useful for individuals who may not be able to trace lineage through the British North American Colonies, and the United States of America.

                According to the Ellis Island Museum in New York City, over 75% of all Europeans sent to the colonies were not free and these records are also available for research. Bondsmen, servants, slaves black and white are recorded on ship documents and available for research. All war records contain information of service men, black and white, and are an excellent source of information concerning birth date, place, parent’s names and status.

The census records and other government resources have also been helpful in tracings family origins and beginnings. Church records have also played a significant part in the understanding of events in the lives of family members. I am also indebted to Columbia University and Margaret Mead for providing me with a strong background in anthropology. This is to say that I had the skills to do the research, and the ability to understand the significance of my research.

This research started as part of a family reunion project. In 1989 I was invited to a family reunion in Alachua Florida. I had been born in New York City, but my family heritage comes from Florida, I knew about my mother’s people from Jacksonville Florida, but little about my father’s people in Alachua Florida. I entered into a new world. I found a lot of teachers like myself, and a rich history of people often omitted from school textbooks, the hidden Black southern middle educated and professional class. It was difficult at first to process the idea that while my mother was struggling, as a widow, to raise three children on a welfare check, I had relatives who were property owners and wealthy professionals. I found it interesting to note that although I had become a professional educator, the hard way, when I met my cousins, who were also educators, we were the same. We had all traveled on different paths but we met in the same place and realized we had achieved the same goals.

I took out a yellow pad and pencil, and started talking to each one of the relatives individually; I wanted to know their story. First thing I did was to make a geno-gram of each person. I asked about their parents, grandparents, husbands, sisters, brothers, wives, children and grand children. My cousin’s wife Jeanie DeBose, helped introduce me to the other relatives I did not know, and helped me organize the many piles of yellow sheets, which were developing.

Returning home I undertook the task of sorting through all of the information, with this information I was able to determine who were the grandparents of this clan. I was at this point that I discovered that there were two clans, each including an important ancestor. I discovered the DeBose / Welch connection, and how this connection came about. I discovered the concept of slave ministers, and the role they played in contributing to the institution of slavery. Alexander DeBose and Simon Welch were slave ministers, selected from different plantations to educate the slaves. These two men were destined to become friends, and the sons of Alexander became the fathers of the DeBose / Welch Family, and the Welch daughters became the ancestral mothers. Mamie Whittaker joins the Welch daughters as an important mother in this lineage. Jacob DeBose Jr. becomes the father of both Feirmon E. Welch and E.H. Debose, making these two men not only brothers but head of the DeBose /Welch clan.

The story is exciting and religious, and gives a structural look into family dynamics and how family values and religion plays a significant part in the success and strength of a family.

Countless hours were spent in the Schomburg Library, part of the New York State library system for the study of African American culture and history. This information is provided as an education tool and for families interested in discovering the rich and unsung contributions of the African American. If your family has been effected by drugs, alcohol and negative behaviors in recent years, it is suggested that you go back beyond the troubling years and find the true history of your family.

Civil Rights have been hard on the African American family; it is helpful to discover how the families survived before the freedom to destroy one’s life through harmful behavior developed. African American families were strong and united in structured guides and support system, necessary for survival. When life gives you difficult circumstances, which seems unbearable, ask yourself, how did the ancestors survive in an environment of outside hatred and control, what inner strength did the ancestors have, making it possible for you to have life and sustain continuity of existence? Ask, what would my great great grandmother do in the same circumstances? Find the source of the power within, the courage to win and the strength to survive.

From a religious perspective, the family had one religion. This was the religion passed on to slave families in selected communities. The DeBose family were Methodist. My ancestor was trained to be a Methodist minister, and during the period of slavery, he was assigned to go to the various plantations and present the word of God to the slaves.

These church meetings were usually held in the woods. The architecture was designed by nature. Tall trees provided the walls, which set apart these special places of worship. The many leaves on the trees blocked out the fields and plantation houses, and permitted the slaves to lose themselves, for a short time, in the place set aside to worship.

Later, men free and slave were permitted to share houses of worship with other town folks, and other people from different plantations. Their stations in life may have been different, but they were learning to worship God using the same belief systems and order of service.

Two hundred and fifty years later, these have changed considerably. The Methodist church is not the dominant religion in the family. Today at a family gathers you will find a representation of all the protestant   Christian denominations. You will find Jewish aunts and cousins discussing activities in the synagogues. You will find Muslim relatives discussing the mosques, which they attend, while paying careful attention to the meat used to season the vegetables.

Religious science relatives join in with catholic cousins as they look over family albums and share memories of events. Joining the family have been members from the Caribbean and different countries in Africa. My grand son remarked that our family is like a mini United Nations. And so it is.

This story of my family is only a small representation of what is taking place in the country, and especially New York City. The doorway to America has traditionally been New York City. New York City has the responsibility of enculturation of all new comers. The city welcomes all, and invites residents and visitors to experience the beauty and excitement of the peoples of the world. Our family started its worship service in buildings where the earth was the floor, and the trees were the walls. Today many worship in grand Cathedrals, Mosques and Synagogues. As the different neighborhoods transform to meet the needs of an ever-changing population, we as Native Americans can engage as an active participant of the exciting show.

New comers bring an exciting mixture of new foods and we are able to experience new restaurants. The colorful modes of dress can make one forget for a minute that no border has been crossed. This is America at its diverse finest. A free people will build houses of worship. New York City, through its large welcoming mat has made it possible for many of us to visit the world without searching for a passport. Behind each door to a house of worship, the reality of traditional customs and beliefs come alive. The door shuts out the multicultural world, and permits behaviors, dress style and music to give free expressions. Therefore, the opportunity to visit different houses of worship provides an opportunity to find out, not so much who we were, but who we are now, and what we are becoming. These changes in the American cultural style, are not only demonstrated in the houses of worship, but the reality  that your children and grand children will make your family a multicultural gathering place for people joined together by blood and marriage. America is indeed God’s living experiment on earth. New York City, with its houses of worship demonstrates the hand of the architect and the artist in recreating man’s future “Eden.”

 

 

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