February 24, 2012 07:00 PM by Candace Young
The last time on NBC‘s Who Do You Think You Are?, movie actress Marisa Tomei traveled to Italy to find out the real story behind the murder of her great grandfather. Keep reading for all of the highlights from this week’s episode as actor Blair Underwood gets in touch with his parents’ roots…
Blair Underwood is best known for his stint on L.A. Law and is a five-time winner of the NAACP Image Award. His father is a retired army colonel, and his grandfather was the second African-American police officer in Ohio. He doesn’t know much about his mother’s side – the Royalls.
He begins his journey on Who Do You Think You Are? by traveling to Virginia to get information on his grandmother, Bessie-Mae Royall, and great-grandmother, who was a White. Blair’s brother, Frank Jr., is there and has been researching their father’s side of the family, but hit a brick wall.
Blair goes to the Library of Virginia to get started with a genealogist. They trace his mother’s roots back to the Earlys, and learns that his great, great, great grandfather, Sauney Early, was in a mental hospital in 1900 following the Civil War. Going back, he learns that the man was a slave in 1860. Blair realizes he’s hit the wall as slaves weren’t a part of the census. He knows Sauney was freed by 1870, but wants to find out how he ended up in a mental hospital.
Through newspaper clippings, Blair learns that Sauney was known as an eccentric character who believed himself to be the second Jesus, and who was shot a few times during altercations involving cows. They find out that Sauney got shot yet again in a dispute over timber, but survived. To tie the stories together, Blair travels with the man from the library to the spot where the conflicts took place and where Sauney lived – now an open field. The man tells Blair he suspects Sauney was a conjurer, which would explain him being viewed as eccentric. Further research reveals that the cows in the stories were threatening Sauney’s family’s supply of corn. Blair assumes that he ended up being committed because he was shot four times defending his rights and wasn’t giving up.
Next, Blair turns his attention to the ancestry of his great, great grandmother – Ada White. In Lynchburg, the genealogist tells Blair that Ada’s father was Delaware Scott. They find him in an 1860 census, which indicates that he was free, not a slave, and that he was a barrel-maker and property owner. His mother was Judith Scott. He wonders how they became free.
At the Library of Virginia, Blair is able to discover that Delaware was born free in the 1820′s, which means his mother was free – the status comes from the mother. Further research shows that Judith’s family was free before 1806, and that her husband was Samuel Scott. Blair is so proud to be descended from this family who were free as early as 1790.
Upon visiting the baptist church in Lynchburg, they establish that Samuel was buying land (around 200 acres) in 1806. He’s stunned to learn that Samuel owned two slaves! It’s revealed that the slaves were probably elderly family members who Samuel was taking care of – the slave status allowed them to stay in the state during a time when freed slaves had to leave. There are no more records of the Scotts – he’s hit the wall again.
Time to turn his attention to his father’s side of the family. DNA testing shows that Blair is 74% African and 36% European. Upon analyzing the African DNA, they are able to find the closest tribes and find a DNA match for a cousin in Cameroon – Eric Sonjowoh.
Blair travels to Cameroon with his father in tow to reconnect with his African family. They meet Eric and his father and embrace emotionally. The tribe celebrates. They go into a house to have a discussion about the slave trade in Cameroon in the past, and Eric explains how he came to enter his DNA in the Ancestry.com database in order to help connect with Americans trying to trace their roots. Blair issues an invitation to Eric to visit him in the United States.
Blair is thrilled to have found proud, dignified people on both sides of his family. He feels certain voids are filled – who he thought he was, is different from who he knows he is today.
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