by Juliette Bazurto
I have traced my European ancestry on my mom’s side all the way back to before the United States, primarily the English and French parts. Starting with my 6th great grandmother, there were hints and records I looked at that guided me through this line. Both of her parents, I found through other trees and online graveyard photos, were born in Quebec, but only her mother moved to Kaskaskia in what is now Illinois, with the daughter, in the 1700s. (In 1703, French Jesuit missionaries established the mission at Kaskaskia with the goal of converting the indigenous Illini to Catholicism.) A 1787 census record indicated that her father was a settler in early Illinois (which didn’t become a state until 1818) but was born in Quebec, Canada, as well. This side settled in Prairie du Rocher, also founded in the French colonial period, which is now a village in Randolph County, Illinois.
After looking more in-depth at the English side of my family (from maternal grandmother’s side) extending from an ancestor called William Drury, I was able to trace the wealthy English ancestors back all the way to England, given such clear records and the many hints from the data provided by other family trees on Ancestry. An 11th great grandfather took part in building the Cadhay Manor House in East Devon, UK, which still stands as a historical site today. A book called, Records of the Connecticut line of the Hayden Family (specifically the chapter on North American Family Histories), mentions his name and role in the project.
I’ve always been particularly interested in learning about my African-American heritage on my mom’s side too, although it’s well known that not many records exist the farther back you go. I found a lot of photographs, however, after talking to my mom, uncles and grandma from St. Louis. I heard a lot of stories because oral history is essentially how a lot of history has been passed down in the black community. As we are finally seeing today more than ever, so much black history has been covered up or ignored by society until recently. Here is just one story I learned about in my family research:
In this particular story, I found a photo of my 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Berry, who owned land that he got from his white father. The story is that he was burned off his land one night when a white mob came to kill him and his wife and young son. He was growing cotton at the time and the mob left a burning coffin outside his house. The family had to flee to Arkansas to be with other relatives. I found records of marriage in Louisiana and census records from 1900 up to 1930 to indicate his identity and their move from Louisiana to Arkansas around 1885.
The black side of my family didn’t end up leaving Arkansas until my grandpa was a teenager, when his parents moved to St. Louis for more economic opportunity in the 1940s.