The Baltimore Sun

More than 10 years ago this month, I discovered parts of my family tree.

My search for information about my Virginia lineage arose out of a need to confirm to an acquaintance that I, in fact, had blood relatives from the Southern state.

In addition, I always felt awkward and embarrassed when my white friends and colleagues would talk about their European ancestors who hailed from Ireland, Scotland and England.

Outside of their being from Baltimore, I knew very little about my mother's side of the family.

I had often heard my mother, who was born and raised in Baltimore, say that her mother, Mable Carey Pleasant, had been contacted by her father's people about family property in Farmville, Va. But my grandmother never contacted the family.

So I decided I wanted to know more and establish that Virginia family connection.

On Aug. 20, 1993, I took out an advertisement in the Farmville Herald, announcing that the Baltimore descendants of Samuel Joseph Carey - my great-grandfather - were looking for family in Farmville.

I received no responses from the Farmville advertisement. However, more than a year later, an aunt, who knew of my quest, introduced me to my cousin Yvonne Scott in Washington. Scott became key in relating who my great-grandpa was.

Scott told me that Samuel Joseph Carey was born in Prince Edward County, Va. Scott's mother and Carey were siblings.

She told me that my great-great grandpa, Booker H. Carey, served as pastor of the family church, New Hope Baptist Church in Keysville, Va. She also put me in touch with Samuel Carey, a cousin who lived in a rural area outside Farmville. I wrote him about my quest for family history.

I also contacted a former colleague who had relatives who were undertakers in Farmville. Surely, I thought, undertakers would be familiar with a long-established family, especially a preacher's family. But the funeral director had only a vague recollection of a church named New Hope and a man named Sam Carey, who lived in a trailer near the church.

In 1995, I visited the archives room at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. I spun through spools of microfiche of age-old census records. From what I gathered, some slaves were listed only by first name. (Slaves typically bore the last name of their owners. The mother of a slave might be listed, but the father's name might be excluded.)

The census records revealed that Samuel Joseph Carey was born in Prince Edward County in 1881 to Booker and Mariah Carey, who had about 11 children.

Booker Carey was born a slave in 1856. The 1870 census indicated that his parents were Samuel and Nannie Carey.

A month after that library visit, I received a letter from a cousin, Ada Carey Williams of Farmville, explaining that my great-grandfather and her father, Nelson Carey, were brothers. The letter also included an invitation to the Carey family reunion in Farmville on Easter weekend 1995.

Thrilled, I entreated my family to join me Easter weekend. My mother, father, sister and I drove from Baltimore to Farmville to the reunion at the Fevers Lounge. We feasted on down-home cooking, hugged our newfound relations, and I wrote down information to help piece together the family tree.

We also went to the site of my great-great grandfather's church.

After driving there, we saw, on the left side of the road, peering out in splendid dilapidation, the church where my great-great granddaddy preached the gospel. A few feet from the old church was a new church with a cornerstone indicating that New Hope Baptist Church was founded in 1867 by the Rev. Peter Carey, Booker Carey's brother.

Behind the new church was the cemetery. I ran from the car to the weathered old church, trying quickly to absorb all that I saw. My heart was beating wildly, and my hands were unsteady as I tried to capture with my camera the most important scenes.

I ran behind the church and searched longingly at the names on the gravestones until I found one that read: Booker Henry Carey 1856-1931.

In the moments that followed, I was freed from any discomfort I had in not knowing my history.

Karen Moody, 45, is a native of Baltimore. She practices labor and employment law.

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