A genealogy search to define her mother – and herself

Published By:

Philadelphia Inquirer


May 26, 2015


As a young girl, I never knew where my mother came from. I’d ask her where her mother was, and she’d tell me she died. When I’d ask her where her father was, she’d tell me he got sick and died, too. If I prodded too much, her engaging disposition and wide, crooked smile would vanish. “Why do you want to know so much?” she’d snap. “What does it matter?”

My father, a quiet man, whose green eyes hardly missed a thing, never knew either and never really cared or questioned her. But others could be more critical. When my parents were newly engaged, his cousin asked, “Why are you marrying someone who doesn’t know who she is?”

Mom was by her own definition “made by God,” a statement I initially adopted as fact given my Catholic upbringing. But as I got older, the urge to know her family was always with me, like a constant tickle in my throat that needed relief. I wanted to know someone who possessed my mother’s slender wrists, shared her peculiar love for horse racing, or danced in her snapping-fingers-sort-of-boogie, a cross between a hip-hop hustle and the Mummers Strut. I wanted to know her legacy, her roots – something more to not only define her, but to define me.

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