Robin Roberts Finds Strong Southern Roots

ByABC News via logo
November 2, 2006, 8:55 AM

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.