Anyone researching Black American genealogy can tell you how difficult the research can be. Records of Black Americans before 1865 are very difficult to find. A few people have managed to research those records back to 1800. Records back to 1700 are almost unheard of. Professional genealogists hired by the new television show, “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” were astonished when they found documentation of one line of comedian and actress Wanda Sykes' ancestry back to 1683 in York County, Virginia.
Thirty-nine lashes “well laid” on her bare back and an extension of her indentured servitude was Elizabeth Banks’s punishment for “fornication & Bastardy with a negroe slave,” according to a stark June 20, 1683, court document. Elizabeth Banks was a free, although indentured, white woman. The researchers had previously documented Sykes' ancestry back to Banks, her paternal ninth great-grandmother.
“This is an extraordinary case and the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present,” said the historian Ira Berlin, a professor at the University of Maryland known for his work on slavery and African-American history.
You can read more in an article by Felicia R. Lee in the New York Times at http://goo.gl/c6JfD.
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