New Year Resolutions — New Year Genealogy Goals (NYGG!)

Successful genealogy research starts with goal setting. After all, how can you effectively uncover your family history if you have not defined the questions you want to answer? So at the beginning of each year I establish a set of family history research goals for myself.

I have been researching my family history for many years now, so breakthroughs are harder for me to achieve. I feel like a California gold miner, having to work harder and harder each day in the river bed, sifting through larger volumes of sand each year to discover the new specs of family history gold that so enrich my life when I discover them and inspire me to uncover more.

Here is a summary of my 2018 goals and what I uncovered.

1. Establish a Virginia & Carolinas Cumbo Y DNA Project

According to historians, the first documented Cumbo in the New World was Emanuell Cambow, an African who arrived in Jamestown, VA and was freed from indentured servitude in 1665. Many Cumbo descendants like me trace their ancestry to him. Most descendants also face the same challenge that I do; our documented ancestry dead ends generations prior to Emanuell. Mine ends at my fifth great grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr. born between 1776 and 1794 of Northampton County, North Carolina. So I established the Cumbo US South Y-DNA Project to uncover the direct paternal ancestry of Cumbos who trace their family origins back to Emanuell with a goal to gain better insight into how we genetically connect as a family. Our project is off to a fast start. We have 8 charter members and have already uncovered four unique genetic branches. If you are a male Cumbo, please consider joining our project here:

Cumbo family branches represented in our Cumbo US South Y-DNA Project

2. Document the landholdings of my third great grandfather Exum White (1830–1909) of Suffolk, Virginia

Exum White was born a free person of color in Nansemond (now Suffolk), VA around 1830. According to family oral history, he owned multiple properties across Nansemond County including in the Great Dismal Swamp. Virginia deed records are not available online so this summer I made a trip to the Library of Virginia in Richmond to research. I found extensive records for Exum’s landholdings supporting family history. Here are a few examples. He bought his first property near the town of Suffolk in 1854 at age 24 for $200 from Elisha Norfleet, brother to merchant James Norfleet his employer from whom he earned the money to buy the land. In June 1857 he purchases land in Holy Neck with his associate Henry Reid. A year and a half later on December 13 1859, he marries Henry’s 14-year-old daughter, my third great grandmother Adaline Reid White. By 1882 he purchases land in Cypress from Robinson Grant; This could be the Great Dismal Swamp property. My visit to the state library revealed more good news. I noticed deed records for Exum’s father Meredith White Sr. and for his brothers Josiah, David and Meredith Jr. It was inspiring for me to uncover all of this extensive land ownership by free black men living in the south in the time of slavery. I hope to make it back in 2019 to continue research on my family.

Here I am visiting the Library of Virginia in Richmond for the first time to research my third great grandfather Exum White.
Here is an early 1900’s map of Nansemond County, Virginia. Based on research, my third great grandfather Exum White owned property in Suffolk, Holy Neck and Cypress which includes parts of the Great Dismal Swamp.

3. Research the parentage of my second great grandmother Emma Goodwin (1866–1924) of South Carolina

A death record attached to the tree of a DNA match helped me to uncover the ancestry of my second great grandmother Emma Goodwin. She was born in 1866 one year after slavery ended in Columbia, South Carolina to the formerly enslaved Richard Goodwin[e]. By 1870 she’s a young girl living with Richard and stepmother Jane Bell. I’ve not yet uncovered the identify of her biological mother. By 1880, age 14, she’s migrated to Charlotte and is listed as a servant in the household of John Bell, a presumed step relative. By 1882, age 16, she’s given birth to my great grandfather Harvey Henderson. She married twice, once to a man named King Cephas Goodwin (around 1887) and a second time to Andrew “Drue” Cunningham (1915) before passing away in 1924. She lived a difficult life but persevered and that is inspiring to me.

1924 death certificate for my great-great grandmother Emma Goodwin. Her informant is my great grandfather Harvey Henderson.

4. Leverage my mtDNA results to research the ancestry of my third great grandmother Emma Jane Hall of Hertford County, North Carolina

In 2018 I did the FTDNA full mtdna haplogroup test. My maternal haplogroup is U4a1a which traces back to a modern-day Scandinavia and Russia. I generated over 90 genetic matches and two close genetic matches. I have a sinking feeling however that even my close matches (0 genetic distance) aren’t traceable relatives. My closest match traces his direct maternal ancestry to his maternal grandmother who was born in Sweden around 1865. My direct maternal ancestors tracing back to Emma Jane Hall have been in the US since at least the early 1800s and I hypothesize that we trace back even further to colonial Virginia. I hope one day more close matches will emerge so that my search can continue with more direction.

1870 census record for my third great grandmother Emma Jane Hall. She was my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother. I inherit my maternal haplogroup U4a1a from her. U4a1a traces back 15,000 to a common ancestor in regions known today as Russia and Scandinavia.

5. Publish a second article in a genealogical journal.

My first article, Researching Slaveholding Ancestors, was published in the Journal of the Granville County Genealogical Society in 2017, so I set a goal to have a second published in 2018. That didn’t happen, but here’s what did. USA Today found one of my blogs, Tracing African Ancestry using DNA, and interviewed me for this article, Looking For Your Roots? I was excited to share how as an African American I use DNA testing to uncover our family stories, connect to our African ancestry and break down research brick walls created by slavery and limited documentation for people of color.

Here are my top 3 research goals for 2019

  1. Publish a second article in a genealogical journal
  2. Uncover the story behind why my fourth great grandmother, an enslaved woman named Clara Cotten, was sold in 1844 for $1 to Kader Biggs of Bertie County, North Carolina
  3. Use DNA testing to learn more about the ancestry of my wife’s Haitian parents

What are your research goals for this year?

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