I would give everything I own for the chance to interview Mary Jen Burton Jessie. My mother’s grandmother was born in 1875 near Aiken, South Carolina, 12 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Without ever seeing a picture or drawing of her, I visualize a stocky build, prominent cheekbones, rounded shoulders. All physical trademarks courtesy of my maternal side.
And if I thought my mother Eloise got carried away by birthing 10 children, Mary Jen one-upped her. The 11 surviving children she and Henry Jessie created are half the leaves on part of my family tree I’ve been able to pluck and prune together since joining Ancestry.com back in 2018.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded $1.4 million to Michigan State University for Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade, or Enslaved.org, a first-of-its-kind database containing millions of records cataloging the lives of enslaved Africans and their descendants. Enslaved.org, developed and maintained by MSU researchers, links data collections from multiple universities, archives, museums and family history centers. The
Mellon Foundation funded the initial two phases of Enslaved.org – the first beginning in 2018 and the second in 2020 – which provided support for both proof-of-concept and implementation.