My Fifth Great-Grandfather Is A White Man: Unearthing Family Truths and Lineage
Firstly, I am, for the Sims family at least, one of our historians. I am from the Sims generations who spent most of their time in Arkansas — and eventually northern Illinois, mainly Rockford, Illinois. It is my job as a gatekeeper for us to know who we are as well as where we come from. I take this position in our large family very seriously. It has made me a better family member, a better researcher as well.
I did a DNA test kit with Ancestry.com earlier this year, but even before that I have been collecting family knowledge, history, travels, etc. long before then. Tapping the knowledge of my mother mostly for this information I have learned a ton about who we are, listed as “Early African American Virginians” on Ancestry.com. Even that fact had me digging and digging, particularly for my great-great-great-grandfather Plumb Sims.
I have always been interested in people, in who we are, and where we come from. This trait in me has helped me learn about the people in my life in the most kindred ways. I am from the Midwest also. What I know about Midwesterners is that we ask simple but engaging questions. We want to get to know who our friends are. We get to know people in very genuine ways. This part of me has kept me tuned in with friends or associates in productive ways.
When I learned about my fifth great grandfather being a White man, I was not at all surprised. Some of us Sims, especially the ones in my immediate family, are very fair-skinned. We knew deep down that there had to be white people in our family. We could not pinpoint who but eventually we would find it. Let me say here that a white woman who Ancestry has identified as my 4th-6th relative also helped with that identification. I will not reveal my cousin’s name, but it is a blessing to know her and to be having the kinds of discussions we are having.
William Sims is my fifth great-grandfather. A white man whose story is interesting, is engaging, is pushing me to dig more and more until I find the whole story. There are parts that have not added up for me in regards to how he helped eventually make this reality possible. I am getting close though. I believe I am going to have to enlist some help from another family member to put it all together but I am as close as I have ever been to the European in me — the truth of the matter.
This is not earth-shattering information. Many Black people in this country know they are from a European lineage of some sort. The way we have mingled and mixed in the United States is no secret. It is the experience of being a citizen of the United States. Although most of me is African, as I found in my DNA test results, I cannot ignore the other parts; I cannot run from the discoveries coming my way day after day. I have wanted to know who I am for a long time.
Williams Sims, Sims men listed in land documents and transfers, wills I have seen owe me the truth. Who they were and who they may have owned owes my entire family a 2021 truth so we can resolve things and understand all we can about where we come from. If I can share that by making my family tree as complete as possible, then I have done my job as one of the family’s historians and gatekeepers. My great-great-grandfather Tidwell Sims would be proud of me. I can feel his presence in all this work I am doing.
I will continue to be the anti-racist leader and activist I have been for the past almost two decades. I will still fight yelling Black Lives Matter. I will still write about anti-Blackness, racial inequity, or economic and environmental injustices and racism. You will still see me live online, in a video, or on stage reciting a poem of mine such as Poetry That Gives Birth To Revolution. The freedom fighter in me won’t stop.
Freedom fighting and Black liberation are helping me take in this new information. It meets the elder Sims men (and women) who owned a plantation my family members might have been on somewhere in Arkansas or in North Carolina or in Tennessee. I can proceed knowing I found out who we are as Sims but also to continue to push the boundaries and lackadaisical nature of justice work. We are who we are. We are what we know.
As I continue to uncover who I am the more this story will continue. I will write more about this experience. I will return to documents, files, downloads, and the like to further the movement of genealogical findings to tell our stories, to share with family members who are interested in adding to their trees, and coming to grips with a history that helped bring us here. Knowledge is indeed power.