I was so incredibly lucky to know my grandmother Evelyn, and even luckier to be able to say she was my best friend. We told each other everything and wrote letters to each other when she was in Wisconsin and I in California. When she passed it was devastating and extremely hard to move on. I found some solace in researching our ancestory and finding out where we came from. I took all I knew from her and from her mother Amanda, my great grandma and began the journey.
It was extraordinary that I also had an amazing relationship with Great Grandma Amanda as well. She came to my dance recitals often and I loved to watch her cooking in her kitchen. One thing I didn’t realize growing up was that they stood up for my mother when she married a black man and added a brown baby into the family. I later found out it was not popular with the whole family. Amanda was the matriarch and Evelyn the first born, so their opinion was rule and law. Never in my childhood did I feel anything but acceptance in my immediate family.
My great grandfather had died in January of 1950, even before my mother was born. I never knew much about him at all. I collected many photos of him and searched for more information with Ancestry.com. He had only been referred to as “Grandpa Ben” so it was surprising to find out that his real name was Ulysses. Both Ben and Amanda had been born and raised in Wisconsin; she by immigrants from Germany and he from farmers in Northern Wi.
Ben and Amanda married and raised their two girls and three boys in Peshtigo, a small town in Northern Wisconsin.
Amanda’s parents were German Lutherans, Gustav Feske & Margeret Engel. Their genealogy search took us to Mecklenberg, Germany and I learned of our German roots and heritage. It was surprising how much of the culture continued for centuries down to the holiday traditions and family meals I grew up with. It made it seem more familiar. I even have Gustav’s tobacco pouch and Margaret’s purse hanging in my room.
I started researching Ulysses’ (Ben) family and came upon two very important pictures that sent me on to the biggest family revelation I ever could have imagined. One pic was of Ben’s father Solomon Amasa Sharpe (right), and his grandfather’s photo (left) from serving in the Civil War. His name was Eubulus Walter Sharpe.
Now I was on a roll! Civil War records started rolling in and I found a ton of information on Eubulus’s wife and his birthplace; I even found out how he had died at the battle of St. Petersburg from a sniper’s bullet while he was making his breakfast. Finding all this information on my Gr.Gr. Gr. Grandfather was amazing already, and then I saw a census record and an enlistment card listing him as ‘mulatto’. To say my interest peaked is an understatement. Searching through records I saw his father’s name was Solomon and that census records listed them all as mulattos in Massachusetts.
Like a puzzle it all started to fall into place and has led me to Caleb Sharp. He is my 5th Gr. Grandfather and he is mentioned many times in the settlement history of Conway, Ma. as a rigorous man that is half negro half native Indian. He was a good hunter judging from the amount of game and fur he exchanged for sundries. Caleb was born in 1729 and his death records state he was a “black man succumbed to consumption age 70”.
This is as far as I have been able to go so far in that line of genealogy. I continue my search wondering if my grandmothers really knew the truth. Most people hope that they find out they are from a long line of royalty. I have loved finding out that I have ancestors that have participated in almost all major wars fought on Colonial and American soil. I feel such deep pride and redemption in the fact that I’m not the black sheep of the family, unique in my brown skin. Turns out, I look more like our ancestral family than them all. Celebrating Black History Month has been really special this February for me and my son. I encourage everyone to go out and find out who you really are and where you really come from, it is very empowering and humbling. If you have searched your past I would love to hear your stories!