Slavery, genealogy meetings

The 'circle process' is utilized for Coming to the Table's 'deep dialogues' about slavery, racism, and genealogy.
The ‘circle process’ is utilized for Coming to the Table’s ‘deep dialogues’ about slavery, racism, and genealogy.

Slavery, genealogy, race, family legacy, white privilege and healing will be among the central topics discussed at the Coming to the Table (CTTT)-New York City Metro Chapter meetings.

As co-leader with Julie Finch of the CTTT-NYC Metro Chapter, I am extending an invitation to my friends and readers of my blog to attend our upcoming meetings. The next meeting is set for Saturday, April 11, noon-4pm. We hope to recruit new CTTT members and hold public meetings every two months. Our meetings are free.

Gather together with like-minded folks interested in the Mission and Vision of Coming to the Table. Share stories, build friendships, and help us plan future meetings together. As is our tradition, we usually eat a small meal together in a gathering of multi-racial people.

Many in our group have done extensive research and can identify and document their family’s involvement with slavery—either as a descendant of former en-slavers, formerly enslaved persons or both categories. I am a descendant of both! Some of us are expert genealogists and can assist you with your family search. Some of our white members have already attended family reunions with their ‘new-found’ African American linked-ancestors! Our members include descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Pocahontas, American Revolution and Civil War veterans and more.

For deep sharing, please review Touchstones prior to the meeting. We use the Circle Process for at least part of our time together. So, please review our circle process that is based on Native American tradition, sometimes with a talking stick or stone, for deep dialogue.
Coming to the Table provides leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery, a major part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Our approach to achieving our vision and mission involves four interrelated practices: 1. Uncovering History: researching, acknowledging, and sharing personal, family and community histories of race with openness and honesty. 2. Making Connections: connecting to others within and across racial lines in order to develop and deepen relationships. 3. Working Toward Healing: exploring how we can heal together through dialogue, reunion, ritual, ceremony, the arts, apology and other methods. 4. Taking Action: actively seeking to heal the wounds of racial inequality and injustice and to support racial reconciliation between individuals, within families, and in communities.

To learn more, and to RSVP, click here!
We’ll send info about the location (in Manhattan) to those who RSVP. We look forward to a wonderful afternoon together.

For more information send Email:
Phone: 1-877-540-CTTT (2888)
Toward peace!

Coming to the Table

Watch the Episode here:

503 Coming to The Table.mpeg-2-Apple TV from Toni Williams on Vimeo.

I was honored to co-produce an edition of the TV show Brooklyn Savvy with Toni Williams, host & executive producer, for a segment called “Coming to the Table.” The title is taken from the name of an organization that I am very passionate about. I serve as one of the coordinators of the group’s local chapter. The program addressed genealogy, race relations, slavery and white privilege with candid conversations. Invited guests included colleagues from Coming to the Table (CTTT) – NYC chapter, Elizabeth Sturgess-Llerena, Julie Finch; Mitchell Woo, Hunter College/CUNY faculty, and specialist on identity, race and Asian American studies; and Denise Arbesu, the show’s regular co-host.

Sturgess-Llerena, a NYC schoolteacher, is a descendant of the DeWolf family, the nation’s largest slave-traders and founders of Brown University. She co-directed her family documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North,” created and produced by her cousin Katrina Browne. Julie Finch, a Quaker from Maine, recently discovered her family’s Southern roots from old family letters that mentioned the children that they had enslaved. Julie has accused her ancestors of “rape” of the enslaved women that her family owned. She said that she also made the names available to genealogy organizations and is considering how to reach out to her linked African American ancestors.

A racially diverse group, CTTT members are descendants of enslavers and enslaved. As a mixed-heritage person, I identify as a descendant of both groups. Training and deep dialogue in a safe place is a hallmark of the organization’s model for reconciliation and healing. CTTT believes that Americans need to and should be able to talk about race in a safe way without fear, guilt, shame or ridicule.

The white guests on this Brooklyn Savvy TV show talked about discovering enslaved men, women and children in their own families through genealogy research. They shared their shock about their family history. They were also very clear-headed about their “mis-education” by the American public school system and society in general. Do you recall how you were taught about slavery?

The white guests explained what is meant by the term “white privilege,” a major focus of the show. They also listed some basic privileges that white people and light-skinned people of various ethnicity can enjoy simply based on the color of their skin. Woo reflected about a historic “divide and conquer” mentality that created “disconnects” between various racial groups and opportunities. This show is definitely a must see!

Coming to the Table (CTTT) is a national organization with chapters across the nation that believes that America needs to heal from racism caused as a result of centuries of enslavement of Africans and genocide of Native Americans.

Brooklyn Savvy airs at 8 am on Sundays on Channel 25 and Cablevision (Ch 22). You can also tune into Brooklyn Savvy on for additional provocative conversations.

Please feel free to comment.



Caribbean Genealogy Archives, Registry offices

My mother, uncle, cousin, grandmother, aunt in Trinidad


Researching Caribbean family history can be a challenge. Most of our early history chapters are steeped in slavery and indentured servitude. Searching by surname is not always the best way to learn our history. We must look at surnames for clues about the enslaving family and possible locations where our ancestors lived. Then, look for their property records, wills and church records etc. Caribbean genealogy takes a lot of patience.

Many of my ancestors are a mixture of many different people: African, Chinese, Indian, Latino. According the UK National Archives: “More than 1.6 million people were transported between African and the Caribbean between 1640-1807. Although the British slave trade from Africa was abolished in 1807, emancipation of the people did not occur until August 1834.”

Some of my ancestors were Chinese and arrived in the Caribbean via South America after African slavery ended. They were sometimes called Coolies  (a derogatory word similar to the N-word!) and brought in as indentured servants, like many of workers from India, Europe and other places. Although these workers had contracts, they were treated like slaves, according to oral histories and other source material. But, it is possible to review worker contracts to learn their original names, and other information. The key is to ask a lot of questions and listen to the stories told by the oldest people from your island.

I found my grandmother’s papers at the National Archives Chinese Exclusionary Index on Here is an excerpt:

Source Information: New York Chinese Exclusion Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1998. Original data: United States, National Archives and Records Administration. Index to ‘Chinese Exclusion’ Case Files of the New York District Office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, ca. 1882-1960. New York, USA. National Archives and Records Administration–Northeast Region (New York), [April 1998].

Index of New York INS Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files 1882-1960.

But, many records about our families are still in files in the islands and the UK National Archives.  Some Caribbean islands have very good records, some not in such good shape. Here is an excerpt from a list of resources, developed by Guy Grannum, a noted Barbados ancestry expert:

The National Archives (UK), Kew, Surrey TW9 4DU. Tel: 020 8876 3444, email via webform

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – the website has online indexes to Barbadian baptisms and marriages, locations of their family history centers, and their catalogue of their microfilms of archive and library material. Its Hyde Park Family History Center, 64/68 Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, tel: 0207 589 8561, has many Caribbean resources on-site, including registers of births, marriages and deaths for Barbados and Jamaica.

Caribbean archives, libraries and registry offices:

Most archives, libraries and registry offices do not have websites and it has been difficult obtaining these addresses. Where I have found websites I have obtained contact details from these, or used other official and government sites. It is possible that some of these contact details may have changed. My experience is that some services are excellent and others tardy but on the whole it can take some time to get a reply – be patient.


  • Anguilla Library Service, The Valley, Anguilla, BWI, tel: (264) 497-2441
  • Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Judicial Department, The Valley, Anguilla, BWI, tel: (264) 497-2377



  • The National Archives, Rappaport Centre, Victoria Park, St John’s Antigua, West Indies, tel: (268) 462-3946, email:
  • The Registrar General’s Office, High Court, High Street, St John’s Antigua, West Indies, tel: (268) 462-3929
  • Antigua and Barbuda Public Library, Market St, St John’s, Antigua and Barbuda,, tel: (268) 462-4959, email:



  • Department of Archives, PO Box SS-6341, Nassau, Bahamas, tel: (242) 393-2175, email:
  • Registrar General’s Office, PO Box N532, Nassau, Bahamas, tel: (242) 322-3316
  • Nassau Public Library and Museum, Shirley St, Nassau, Bahamas, tel (242) 322-4907



  • Department of Archives, Lazaretto Building, Black Rock, St Michael, Barbados, tel: (246) 425-1380, email:
  • Registration Department, Supreme Court of Barbados, Law Courts, Colleridge St, Bridgetown, Barbados,, tel: (246) 426-3461
  • National Library Service, Public Services Division, Coleridge St, Bridgetown, Barbados, tel: (246) 426-6081, email:



  • Belize Archives Department, 26/28 Unity Boulevard, Belmopan, Belize, tel: (501) 822 2247, email:
  • Registrar General, Supreme Court, Belize City, Belize, tel: (501) 227 7377
  • National Library Service, Bliss Institute, PO Box 287, Belize City, Belize,, tel: (501) 223 – 4248, email:



  • Bermuda National Archives, Government Administration Building, 30 Parliament St, Hamilton HM 12, Bermuda, tel: (441) 295-5151
  • Registry General, Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs, Government Administration Building, 30 Parliament St, Hamilton HM 12, Bermuda, tel: (441) 297-7739
  • Bermuda National Library, 13 Queen St, Par-la-Ville, Hamilton HM 11, Bermuda, tel: (441) 295-3104


British Virgin Islands

  • Library Services Department, Flemming St, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, tel: (284) 494-3428
  • Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Government of the British Virgin Islands, Central Administration Complex, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, tel: (284) 494-3492, email:


Cayman Islands

  • Cayman Islands National Archive, Government Administration Building, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. tel: (345) 949 9809, email:
  • Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, General Registry Department, Tower Building, Grand Cayman. tel: (345) 244 3404, email:
  • Public Library, Edward St, George Town, Grand Cayman, tel: (345) 949-5159



  • National Documentation Centre and Public Library of Dominica, Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, tel: (767) 448-2401, email:
  • General Registrar, Bay Front, Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, tel: (767) 448-2401



  • Public Library/National Archives, 2 Carenage, St George’s, Grenada, tel: (473) 440-2506
  • Registrar General, Church St, St George’s, Grenada, tel: (473) 440-2030



  • National Archives of Guyana, 28 Main Street, Cummingsburg, Georgetown, Guyana, tel: (592) 227 7687, email:
  • General Register Office, GPO Building, Robb Street, Georgetown, Guyana, tel: (592) 225-7561
  • National Library, 76/77 Church & Main Streets, Georgetown, Guyana,, tel: (592) 227-4053, email:



  • Jamaica Archives and Records Department, 59 Church St, Kingston, Jamaica,, tel: 876 922-8830, email:
  • The Registrar General, Vital Records Information, Twickenham Park, Spanish Town, Jamaica,, tel: (876) 984-3041, e-mail:
  • National Library of Jamaica, 12 East St, Kingston, Jamaica,, teL; (876) 967-1526, email:



  • Montserrat Public Library, Government Headquarters, BBC Building, Brades, Montserrat, tel: (664) 491-4706, email:
  • Registrar General, Department of Administration, Government Headquarters, Brades, Montserrat, tel: (664) (664) 491-2129


St Kitts and Nevis

  • National Archives, Government Headquarters, Church St, Box 186, Basseterre, St Kitts, West Indies,, tel: (869) 465-2521, email:
  • Nevis Archives and Library, Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, Nelson Museum, Bellevue, Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies,, tel: (869) 469-0408, email:
  • Registrar General, PO Box 236, Basseterre, St Kitts, West Indies, tel: (869) 465-5251


St Lucia

  • St Lucia National Archives, PO Box 3060, Clarke St, Vigie, Castries, St Lucia, tel: (758) 452-1654, email:
  • Registrar of Civil Status, Peynier Street, Castries, St Lucia, tel: (758) 452-1257 Central Library of St Lucia, Bourbon St, Castries, St Lucia,


St Vincent and the Grenadines

  • National Archives, Cotton Ginnery Compound Frenches, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, tel: (784) 456-1689, e-mail:
  • Registrar General, Government Buildings, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, tel: (784) 457-1424
  • Department of Libraries Archives and Documentation Services, Lower Middle Street, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, tel: (784) 457-1111, email:


Trinidad and Tobago

  • National Archives, PO Box 763, 105 St Vincent St, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, tel: (868) 625-2689, email:
  • Registrar General’s Office, Registration House, 72-74 South Quay, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad,, tel: (868) 624-1660
  • Tobago Registrar General’s Office, Jerningham Street, Scarborough, Tobago, tel: (868) 639-3210
  • National Library and Information System Authority, 105 Abercromby St, Port of Spain, Trinidad,


Turks and Caicos Islands

  • Turks and Caicos National Museum, Guinep House, Front Street, PO Box 188, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, British West Indies, tel: (649) 946-2160, e-mail: use webform
  • The Registrar’s General Office, Front Street, Turks & Caicos Islands, British West Indies, tel: (649) 946-2800

Source: Guy Grannum has been researching his own Barbadian ancestry for many years, and in doing so has gained first-hand knowledge of how to research West Indian ancestry. He works at the UK National Archives and is the author of a number of genealogical guides and article.

Have you searched at any of the Caribbean island archives listed above? Please share your experience?

Slavery book launch

A new slavery book is set to launch in New York. And I was thrilled to be asked to help. Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press) was written by dear colleagues Sharon Morgan and Tom DeWolf. The book chronicles a shared journey toward race reconciliation. The authors are traveling on a year-long national book tour that began at Eastern Mennonite University, birthplace of (CTTT).

Gather at the Table will have a NYC launch event, Saturday, October 20, 3pm at the Quaker Meeting House.

Their tour initiates and promotes conversations about race, slavery, social justice, and healing from the generational trauma of slavery at business, educational, religious and a variety of community venues.

As co-leader of CTTT-NYC with Julie Finch, I was thrilled to partner with the local Quakers to host Morgan and DeWolf at 3PM, Saturday, October 20, 2012 at the Quaker Meeting House, 15 Rutherford Place, New York City.

The authors will share excerpts from their book, introduce a model of healing and engage the audience in storytelling exercises. The event is free to the public and media is invited to cover.

In Gather at the Table, DeWolf and Morgan speak candidly about racism and the unhealed wounds of slavery. “The legacy of slavery,” they write, “is a combination of historical, cultural, and structural trauma that continues to touch everyone in American society today.”

“Schools, neighborhoods and churches are as segregated as ever; health disparities between black and white people remain significant and African Americans are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in colleges. Racism is more subtle now that in the past, but it still exists. Healing will happen and change will occur, when people start listening to one another and looking truthfully at their ancestral experiences.”

The importance of the book’s message, given the present climate of political and social discord, could not be more timely.

Endorsements: Nobel Peace Laureate, 2011, Leymah Gbowee hails Gather at the Table as “an honest exploration into the deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice.” John Paul Lederach, Professor of International Peacebuilding at Notre Dame calls it, “An extraordinary story of an honest, meaningful conversation across the racial divide.”

About the Authors: Thomas Norman DeWolf, author of Inheriting the Trade, is featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary
film Traces of the Trade, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and on the acclaimed PBS series POV. DeWolf speaks regularly about healing from the legacy of slavery and racism at conferences and colleges throughout the United States.
Sharon Morgan is a marketing communications consultant and a nationally recognized pioneer in multicultural marketing. An avid genealogist, she is the webmaster for, a founder of the National Black Public Relations Society and a consultant to the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

For more information about the book: http:// Send a message if you would like to book the authors as speakers at a New York City area venue.

Monastery Weekend

Tears, libation flowed at Coming to the Table national gathering healing circle in Richmond.


My monastery weekend was about American slavery. I attended the Coming to the Table national gathering at Richmond Hill, a monastery and ecumenical retreat focused on prayer, healing and reconciliation. All of us in attendance were connected through slavery–descendants of slaves and slave owners. Descendants of America’s founders, including Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings were fully present.

We shared delicious meals at Richmond Hill.

The idea of a gathering and monastery presented two opposing concepts to my mind.  We were there to talk and be silent about a heavy topic–the legacy and aftermath of slavery. We did talk a lot. But we also had many moments of silence. The sound of bells rang out five times a day signaling everyone to stop and meditate. It became joyfully refreshing to take breaks for daily meditation. No reading, talking, working. We were encouraged to take meditative walks, sit in the garden, chapel. Phones, mobile devices were rarely seen!

Richmond Hill’s chapel was a beautiful, peaceful retreat.

There is something to say about place, time and ancestral spirits. This was my first trip to Richmond, known as the seat of the American Confederacy. There were huge monuments everywhere. I thought that I could feel the devil and angels there. I experienced a similar sensation while attending a Cherokee New Moon ceremony in upstate New york. The wind blew wildly, birds screeched and flew crazily and then everything stopped. No wind. No sound. Nothing.

Richmond River, site of one of America’s largest slave trading posts.

I didn’t expect my own tears at the healing ceremony by the river. The river looked rather plain and unforboding. We held hands in a huge circle. Each of us took turns to call out our ancestor’s names, pour libation and chant ‘Ashe!’ Four of us were moved to the circle’s center because we had a descendent who was lynched or had been a lyncher. I was among this group. I called out my uncle’s name and the names of other family members touched by slavery. A Rhode Island participant, whose family made a fortune from slavery, fervently called out her ancestors by name. “I know what you did. If you have a soul, I call you out!” Tears flowed throughout the afternoon as we chanted ‘Ashe!’ for each other. It was an amazing and powerful experience to be standing with 70 very diverse people who all long to heal our nation’s ‘hidden’ wounds.

Richmond’s St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech.


We could visualize slaves ‘sold down the river.’ Our host told us that this was the place where that phrase ‘sold down the river’ was derived. He showed us the place where the largest slave trading post existed outside of New Orleans. He also pointed to a ‘slave jail’ building used for unsold slaves. As we walked the cobblestone streets, we passed St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech:“Give me liberty or give me death!” We also passed a school building that was the site of Adam-Van Lew House, a Unionist underground site where two women, one White, the other Black, who performed some amazing espionage work that won the war, according to legend.

Adam-Van Lew House, Unionist underground site, Richmond, Va.


It was an amazing weekend of friendship, dialogue, hugs, laughter, tears, walks, shared meals, prayer, healing and meditation. Hearing a heart-felt apology for slavery from a participant brought tears to many. On  our last night together, we had a talent show. I got  to play a 7-year-old-girl in a play called ‘Southern Girls,’ by Sheri Bailey and Dura Temple.

Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center based on prayer, healing, hospitality and reconciliation. All faiths are welcomed.