“As We Climb”: Behind the Scenes with Ancestry®

Family History
28 February 2020
by Ancestry® Team

Ancestry® partnered with Madamenoire to create As We Climb, a celebration of trailblazing African American women who helped shape history.

To highlight the determination, belief and hope of past generations, Ancestry® helped three inspiring women explore their family stories. Here’s what they uncovered and how.

Meet the Inspiring Cast

Cathy Hughes is an American entrepreneur and civil rights activist. She was the first African-American woman to lead a publicly traded company, Radio One.

Still of Cathy Hughes being interviewed at her home.
Cathy Hughes, Founder/Chairperson Urban One

Brooklin Hardiman is an activist and college student at Howard University. Her great-aunt was Aretha Franklin.

Still of Brooklin Hardiman being interviewed at her home.
Brooklin Hardiman, Howard University student

Eunique Jones Gibson is the author and activist behind the “Because of Them, We Can™” campaign, considered one of the most successful Black History campaigns.

Still of Eunique Jones Gibson being interviewed at her home.
Eunique Jones Gibson, Founder, “Because of Them We Can™”

What Ancestry® Uncovered

Cathy Hughes and her anti-slavery activist 2nd great-grandmother

Cathy’s 2nd great-grandmother Charlotta Gordon Pyles was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1804.

Her path to freedom was a long one which involved travel from Kentucky to Ohio, Missouri—and finally Iowa. Once free she traveled north to Pennsylvania and New York where she became an outspoken anti-slavery activist.

She raised $3,000 on a speaker tour to buy freedom for her two sons-in-law.

Along the way, she befriended prominent abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.

Scan of 1856 census.
The Pyles family appears together in this 1856 Iowa State Census record.

An 1856 Iowa State Census record found on Ancestry shows Charlotta and the rest of the Pyles family—along with the daughter of her former owner, Frances Gordon—living in Jackson, Iowa.

Brooklin and the first person in her family to read and write

Brooklin’s 4th great-grandmother Rachel “Millie” Driver/Davis was born into slavery in Alabama in 1837.

By the 1870 U.S. Census, Rachel is listed with her family, including a daughter Florida Davis. Rachel was 42 years old and not able to read or write.

But her daughter Florida, listed as nine at the time, was able to both read and write. In fact she was one of the first women in her family to be fully literate and lived to see the 19th amendment ratified in 1920.

Yalobusha County, Mississippi census.
Florida Davis was listed as able to read and write, just below Millie Davis.

For Brooklin, Florida’s education was the start of a legacy of education in her family, culminating in her attending Howard University. She hopes to continue that legacy and that progressive path that her 3rd great-grandmother Florida built for her and her family.

Eunique Jones and 6 generations of women before her

Through Ancestry records, Eunique’s family tree was traced back to her 4th great-grandmother Fannie to show 7 generations of women, including Eunique.

Chart showing relationship between Fannie McLean and Eunique Jones.
7 generations of women, from Eunique back to Fannie.

On Ancestry, Eunique also discovered the 16 Feb 1868 marriage record of her 4th great-grandparents, Nelson Moore and Fannie McLean. Both are listed as “Freedmen.”

This is likely the first time that Fannie’s name was written down on a record in which she was not represented as property.  It represented her new life as a married free woman of color in North Carolina—a freeman.

Nelson Moore and Fannie McLean's North Carolina marriage record.
1868 marriage record for Nelson Moore and Fannie McLean.

After they were freed, Eunique’s family stayed in the state of North Carolina after their ancestors were freed from enslavement. Even her mother was born in North Carolina.

The fortitude required of these families, specifically the women in keeping these families together, in bringing their families into the new century with education, is remarkable.

Seven generations of women. Seven generations of strength. This is Fannie McLean’s legacy. This is Eunique’s ancestry, a shared history and source of strength she can share with her mother and daughter.

Trailblazing women shaped history. Who were the inspiring women in your family who handed the right to vote down to you?

Find their stories. Make them count.

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