MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The 70's mini-series "Roots" first sparked my interest in genealogy four decades ago, and now, the NBC series "Who Do You Think You Are?" has given it another boost.
For the past several weeks, a group of a group of genealogy experts have been helping me trace my roots. They did the same thing for my colleague, Joe Birch. We did it to show you how easy it can be done, and what resources are out there to help you do it.
Carol Maynard knows that to get to the beginning you have to start at the end.
"So many people come in through the Centers and want to start looking for great-grandmama and eight Sallys over here," she said. "But you need to focus. It makes it a lot easier."
Maynard has been helping Mid-Southerners trace their roots for years at Family History Centers across the Mid-South.
She's personally responsible for uncovering my family history.
Full disclosure: I was not born in the Mid-South. I'm from California, and I lived on the West Coast my entire life until I moved to Memphis. It was quite a surprise to learn my roots are right here in the Mid-South.
Like millions of other African Americans, my roots trace directly to the slave era, and Amite County, Mississippi.
"This is the one that I have been researching," Maynard said. "I believe that he is going to have slave history, because I could find him in 1880, 1870, but I could not find him in 1860. I couldn't find him in 1850."
Shoco Jones was considered property until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. Carol showed me the 1860 slave census.
"The slave owner's name is Makaja Jones, and you'll notice that's not his information. That is the information of Shoco," Maynard said. "They did not list Shoco by name, but he would have been - if he was born in 1842 - he would have been 18-years-old in 1860 slave census.
An 18-year-old slave, with his owner's last name: Jones. It turns out that my family tree is full of people named Jones.
But slave records are hard to trace - you really have to know the slave owner's name. Once Shoco was freed, he married a woman named Missouri.
My story starts in Africa, through the Caribbean Islands, and then goes to the Port of New Orleans - the same route so many other slaves took during the 18th and 19th centuries. From there my ancestors moved to Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Many of them were probably sold to plantation owners.
I'm proud to say my past is full of surprises, each a snapshot of American history. Maynard found that one of my ancestors fought in World War One, while another married a full-blooded native American.
In the end, the amassed stories of my ancestors are something that I will be able to pass on to my daughter, so she can answer when someone asks, "Who do you think you are?"
It's research Maynard enjoys carrying out.
"You may laugh at me, but I really felt close to them when I was doing the work," she said. "Because sometimes, you feel things. And so I just know that they were happy to see that their little Ursula is looking for them."
Tune in Wednesday night at 10pm when we trace the roots of Action News 5 anchor Joe Birch.
To use the same resources Joe and Ursula used to trace their roots, click here: http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp
To find a Family History Center near you, click here: http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp