Not everyone gets the opportunity to walk in their ancestors' footsteps, but it was an opportunity Temecula resident Eric Anderson didn’t want to miss.
His wife, Bernardine, became interested in family history after viewing the TV mini-series “Roots" and began to research her family tree. She would share her discoveries with Eric -- he would nod and smile.
It wasn’t until she discovered his great-great-grandmother, Quincy Anderson, in the Official Slave Tax Records at the Hopkinsville Kentucky Court House that he became hooked on researching more.
Learning that your ancestors were slaves is something most black genealogists face and Eric Anderson, who is African-American, was no exception. He grew up in Los Angeles in a three-block area surrounded by all-white neighborhoods.
“I have thick skin,” he said. “I learned not to let things bother me.”
The Anderson's planned a trip to Hopkinsville and found the original plantation where Quincy was enslaved was still intact. It had been owned by Samuel and Anne Johnson at the time. The Anderson's spent time just walking the property, wondering how life would have been for Quincy.
“It gave me chill bumps,” Eric said.
Not long after the trip, DNA testing for genealogical purposes became available to the general public, so both Eric and Bernardine submitted samples.
One of the close matches Eric found to him was a man in Maryland named John “Rusty” Vaughn. He made contact and Vaughn told Eric he should submit his ancestry to the Vaughn Y DNA Testing Project, which included an online database of people who, through their DNA, showed a connection to the group.
Eric sent a message to the site administrator explaining his connection but was told he could not join the group. His last name wasn’t Vaughn, or any of its derivatives.
Eric thought possibly the fact that he is black -- and the Vaughn's white -- might have served as a deterrent as well.
He got back to Vaughn, who was able to straighten out the issue. Through further research it was determined that not only was Eric connected, he was more closely connected than Rusty Vaughn.
Eric’s link to the Vaughn family is through Burrell Anderson, the son of Quincy, who was born around 1848. Although the Anderson's research has not found a father for Burrell, they have wondered if perhaps that is where the connection might be.
The Anderson's have visited the Vaughn's in Maryland -- and the Vaughn’s have visited Temecula as well. They have formed a friendship begun by an unknown relationship generations before that might only have been discovered by DNA.
Many people believe that DNA testing will answer a lot of questions, which in some cases it does, but often it leaves a lot of unanswered questions as well.
The Anderson’s continue their research, digging through old records and online databases, sharing their research and methodology with others. Eric hopes someday he might find that connection that has proven so elusive.
Both Eric and Bernardine Anderson will be available at the Temecula Valley Genealogy Society’s Open House scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 at the Temecula City Hall Conference Center. The free event will feature more information on DNA, assistance from genealogists and free access to the 1940 U.S. Census. For more information visit www.tvgs.net. --By Barbara McLean