Lawrence Jackson went through most of his life not knowing much about his family history. That didn't bother him until he had a child and wanted to share stories about his ancestors.
So he began a search, armed with only early boyhood memories, for his late grandfather's old home by the railroad tracks in Blairs, Va. Jackson describes his journey in a new book, My Father's Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War.
Shortly after Jackson began a search for his roots, he found out his great-grandfather was a slave.
"If you said to me that my father's grandfather grew up in slavery and actually spent maybe the first 10 or 15 years of his life as human chattel, I wouldn't have been able to take that idea so seriously," Jackson tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
"I didn't imagine that those times — the antebellum heritage of the United States — were so close to me," he says.
Jackson's journey began with the 1900 census. After he located the names of his great-grandparents, Edward Jackson and Celestia Hundley Jackson, he was able to track down their marriage certificate, and with that, his great-great grandparents' names.
"I found that my great-great grandfather Granville Hundley, he bought his 40 acres and a mule ... the same year that the federal troops left the South."
Jackson says it was hard for him to imagine how his great-great grandfather, a man who at that time was in his early 60s, was able to come up with the money for the land in Pittsylvania County, Va., and "grasp the dream of yeoman farmer."
"He put in his tobacco and his wheat and his corn, but soon enough he was parceling out the land to his children," Jackson says.
In his research, Jackson discovered that Granville Hundley's children seemed to have all lost their plots of land.
The 40 acres he bought in Pittsylvania County was the heart of the Virginia tobacco empire when Hundley lived and worked there in the 1870s.
When Jackson visited Pittsylvania County more than a century later, he was able to find and sketch out the plot of land that once belonged to his great-great grandfather.
Jackson says the story of his ancestors will probably be familiar to many Americans. It is not one of "economic triumph or battling segregation or the KKK, it's the story of very ordinary common people."
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