Fredericksburg’s Oldest African American Families Learn Their Ancestry Through DNA Project

The ancestral roots of the ten oldest African American families in Fredericksburg, Virginia, were revealed Friday as part of a project created to recognize the city’s Black residents.

Representatives of families with deep roots in Virginia gathered together on the auditorium stage at James Monroe High School. They submitted their DNA for the research months ago to learn more about their ancestry.

“Yours goes back to Egypt,” Geneologist Paula Royster told one woman who participated in the “Reclaiming Our Time” project.

“Walk like an Egyptian!” the woman responded excitedly.

Others learned they had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. Another person’s relatives lived in Cincinnati, where they helped enslaved people get to freedom along the Ohio River.

“This idea was to uplift and empower people who were so separated, dislocated from the past,” Royster, a geneaologist for the Center for African Amercian Genealogical Research, told News4.

Thomas Duckenfield has been digging into his family history for years.

“The more and more they discover about DNA you can find your deep roots, where all of us converge,” Duckenfield said.

Among the findings: His enslaved ancestors in Essex County, Virginia, were freed by Dr. More Fauntleroy in the early 1800s, long before emancipation.

As Royster and Duckenfield discussed her latest findings, someone in the audience took special notice.

“He mentioned the Fauntleroys and immediately that name rang bells,” Fredericksburg resident Caitlin Bennett said.

Bennett has also done her ancestry homework, and discovered she’s a Fauntleroy descendent. She and Duckenfield met after the event, making the connection for the first time.

“Our people have, you know, not shaken hands for, what, 200 years or so. So it’s a pleasure, a delight, you know, to see her today,” Duckenfield said.

“We share family history. We share a family story, and it’s, I think, very exciting,” Bennett said.

But that wasn’t the only striking discovery.

Royster told 89-year-old Williaim Noel his DNA could be traced back tens of thousands of years.

“I think this will sort of change the feeling that people have about themselves,” Noel said.

Royster said she hopes the project will awaken more people to value of genealogical research and the connections it can forge.

“The idea is to become a human family,” she said.

The residents will meet again Saturday, where the city will host a posthumous wedding ceremony and award marriage certificates in the names of enslaved ancestors who were never allowed to legally marry.

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