February 1, 2018
I traveled to Ghana, West Africa in the summer of 2007; it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I still reminisce about sitting at the Atlantic Ocean and talking to GOD regarding who I would become, my goals and plans for the future, and life in general. My maternal grandmother (my mother’s mother), in 2006 passed away. Before she transitioned we had a long conversation about my life. I promised her that I would do something big with meaning and substance. She expressed to me the last time that we were together that I would do just that. I believe it is my responsibility as a writer and librarian to pen the moments, times, and narratives about my family as slaves, free people, and now citizens of the United States of America. As you go along this journey with me, family surnames that you will learn about come from a mighty history. African American people were not considered human on paper until 1870. Despite, what others believed about us- my people had a name. Their names deserve to be documented and placed in an archival curation for generations to come.
I felt it was best to capture this story as a digital web-narrative and physical book. Both platforms introduce readers to two African American families that bore generations, the Keeton (my mother’s side) and Chafer (my father’s side). How this research project began was through conversations in summer 2011 that I had with my aunt – my mother’s sister. I remember telling her stories that my grandmother and mother shared with me about our family members. My aunt revealed information that I did not know about and helped me with clues that have led me to find close to 8 generations of our ancestors (I truly believe that this is all spiritual and an assignment that I must complete.). I wrote down everything she said; she was a griot to say the least. Her stories about my relatives had me crying, laughing, and screaming. Excited and wanting to learn all about my family’s history after listening to her – the good and the bad. In my heart, I believe I became serious about finding their history after our last conversation, because I too want share passed down memories with my niece and nephew one day, just as she did with me. Sadly, my mother died in June of 2015 and my aunt joined her two months later in the fields of heaven. The three major women in my life that helped shape my identity all transitioned in the past 10 years. Their stories have turned into a story; I am now in the process of writing about eight generations in their honor.
Since 2011, I have researched endlessly to find our ancestors. I have a desire to know all of my history and to go back as far as I can to find their his/her/stories – it is the same feeling that I had when I wrote my first book of experimental fiction _ I had to get the story out of me. In like manner, it is surprising that this would be the second body of work that I pen and will be about my family history. To think that the universe would choose me to write about them, archive their history, and research has been an amazing and challenging experience. Traveling back in time as a self-taught genealogist has been a real eye-opener for me at this period and time in my life. I only hope that I do my entire family justice throughout this process of documenting their lives. I am proud to be an African American woman who knows her history and can share it with others.
Taking the trip to the motherland helped me in more ways than I could see at that time. Today, I know that each experience that I had, being able to revisit and retrace the history of my ancestors before they arrived in the United States is a major force with this project. Personally understanding and accepting what happened to millions of Africans (my people) and how they prevailed and made it possible for me to be on this earth – it takes a village to raise a child (African Proverb)! I am glad that you could join me in this experience and learning about the Southern Migration of the Keeton and Chafer Family. Through these families you will travel virtually in real-time through the states of Virginia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama, and arrive in Texas. I hope this story and documentary experience inspires you to research your history. Ase’
Learn more about how this journey began with the first family that I began searching here.
“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.”
— Alex Haley, Roots