Robin Roberts Finds Strong Southern Roots

ByROBIN ROBERTS via via logo

Nov. 2, 2006 — -- I've always known I come from a strong family.

The stories of my own parents' struggles and triumphs, and those of their parents, are a constant reminder of the traditions I carry with me.

Searching my ancestry, I found a brilliant tapestry of hope, courage and innovation that goes back centuries.

Many African-Americans interested in tracing back their family history often hit a brick wall around 1870. The brick wall is, of course, slavery.

So one of the first things I did was take a DNA test with African Ancestry to see whether I had any links to Africa.

African Ancestry says its test, though controversial, can trace a part of my maternal DNA hundreds, if not thousands of years back, using a database of DNA codes.

The results? That I might share ancestry with the Kroo people of Liberia, folks known for fighting slave traders.

An interesting connection, but I wanted to pinpoint the things I could know for sure.

From the 1870 census, the first after emancipation, I learned that my great-great-great-grandmother Ann Ross worked and lived at the Entler Hotel in Shepherdstown, W.Va., raising four children from her home in the basement of the hotel.

Incredibly, at the local museum, I found the register where Ann would have signed in guests.

One of Ann's daughters married James Tolliver, my great-great-grandfather, who's buried at Rose Hill Cemetery. He was considered the first African-American entrepreneur in the village of Shepherdstown.

I knew he was a businessman. That's what my family always said. He owned a liverystable and a grocery store, among other business ventures.

On the Roberts side, my dad's family, the roots run deep in rural Culpeper County, Va. And it's on his side that I was able to trace all the way back to the 1700s.

Genealogist Megan Smolenyak helped me go back all the way to a 1790 document that was a solemnization of marriages.

In 1866, marriages between former slaves were retroactively recognized all the way back to 1821.

Then, census documents revealed that my grandfather Robert Roberts owned his home -- a house valued at $6,500, which was a lot of money back then.

He even had a radio -- a sign of prosperity at a time when radios were arelatively new technology.

Precious details that it would have taken years to discover before can now be found online, such as a passenger list we uncovered from the USS Randall that shows my mom and big brother coming back from Japan after one of my dad's tours of duty in the military.

I discovered the trails my ancestors blazed, the treks that spread them across 14 states looking for a better life.

Without their sacrifices, our family tree wouldn't be as strong as it is today.

"It's all about connection," Smolenyak said. "This helps people connect across oceans, across centuries, and if people start to appreciate that, it helps you understand that we really are all cousins."

ABC News producer Alberto Orso contributed to this report.

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