I'm not sure how I got started with this whole business of researching my family tree, but a couple of interesting things happened to me in the seventies.
In 1973, while home from college for the Christmas break, I was visiting my paternal grandmother, Ella Williams. We were sitting in the kitchen of my cousin Sharon's New York apartment. Out of nowhere, my grandmother began to tell us our family's history. She told us that the Williams were originally from Madagascar, an Island off the East Coast of Africa and that we were house slaves in Virginia. Supposedly, her sister had documented all of this, but the information was lost after her sister died.
Later in the spring of 1974, I was attending a College Broadcasters convention. I attended the convention with Tina Waynes, a sister who worked with me at WKDU, the campus radio station at Drexel University in Philadelphia. There were just a few Blacks who had attended. Tina and a brother from a station in Alaska noticed that there was another conference going on in our hotel that was being attended by a group of Black folks. So they slipped away from our group to attend the other conference. When they returned, they told me about this brother who was researching his family tree and in the process of writing a book about it. His research had taken him all the way back to Africa, where he actually learned about his family history from African storytellers called griots. At the time, the person's name meant nothing to me. However, in 1977, the whole world became familiar with the name Alex Haley when he published his now famous book "Roots".
Back to 1974. It bothered me that my grandmother had said that we were from the East Coast of Africa. It didn't jibe with the things that I had learned about most Blacks being taken from the West Coast of Africa. But later that year I had a discussion with noted historian Dr. Joseph Ben Jochannan who assured me that Black folks were brought to America from all over the African continent. After that moment, I no longer questioned the story of my grandmother.
Well it wasn't until sometime in the late 80s that I simply began writing down the relationships between me and other members of my family. For a number of years, I only worked on it during Christmas. However, by the mid-nineties, I began to get a little more serious and started working more consistently throughout the year.
I'm developing four family trees, one for each of my grandparents. Strangely enough, I have the least amount of information on my father's side of the family, which of course is the family of my grandmother who started it all.
My mother's side of the family traces its roots through Barbados. I've traveled to Barbados and have spent time at the Archives. The Barbados Archives is an incredible experience! I found a lot of information on the Sobers side of my family, but couldn't find anything on the Ghylls, whose roots also flow through Barbados.
(Note: Much of the information at the Barbados Archives has been placed online at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints genealogy website, FamilySearch.org.)
On February 29, 1999, I was sitting in the barber's chair at Williams Beauty and Barber Shop in Plano, Texas. Mr. Williams (no relation) and I were talking about where I was going for vacation. Somehow we began talking about my vacations in Barbados. I started telling him about my family history and he said that the information would make a great book. Mr. Williams was not the first to tell me that. In fact, I had already begun documenting and sharing various pieces of our history with family members around the country. But that night, I went home and did the outline for this book.
Updated February 12, 2020
Donald L. Hinson, Jr.