Reading from Trafficke Oct 9 in Colorado Springs

If you’re nearby…I’ll be reading from my Magruder book, Trafficke, on Friday, October 9th, 7:00 pm @ University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. University Center, Room 303.

Follow signs in the building. Parking is open to visitors (other than handicap or reserved spaces) after 4:00 pm on Fridays. If you’re there, be sure to say hello! I’ll also have books there for sale.

Read about Trafficke on my website or the Ahsahta Press website

Tempest in a Teapot? Or actual new information about Alexander Magruder?

Recently, someone in the Facebook Magruder/McGruder family genealogy group started off a long conversation with the following:

Alexander Magruder is no longer a “gateway ancestor” for the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne” [OCC] or for the descendants of Magna Carta Barons. Genealogists have determined that Margaret Campbell was not his mother, and she is the one who connected him to those lineages.

Subsequent discussion was not very enlightening, though group members who are also OCC members did try to find out more detail. All we know is that the OCC’s genealogist has made this determination, but apparently does not share with anyone the sources consulted or reasons for the decision. And, honestly, a genealogical claim without reference to sources isn’t worth the pixels it takes to type it. The OCC is also claiming a birth date for Alexander of 1630–fully 20 years later than has been believed. Again, no evidence offered. Are they just guessing?

Considering that several researchers, in several generations–most recently Don McGruther–have thoroughly searched public records in Scotland, and all concur that our Alexander was the son of Alexander McGrouther (senior) and Margaret Campbell, (widow of Andrew Drummond of Balmaclone)…my question was, and still is: does the OCC have access to a document or documents not available to the rest of us, or has the genealogist simply decided that the extant evidence is too skimpy to be sure of Alexander’s parentage? While the former would be big news, indeed, the latter would be no news at all–we’ve always known the record is scant. (See, on this site, Alexander’s Family Tree & Was Alexander Who We Think He Was?)

Personally, I don’t give a fig about descent from Charlemagne or the Magna Carta barons, but I’d be pretty darned excited to see actual new evidence about Alexander and his family. I hope OCC Magruders will keep the rest of us informed about any new developments or information.

In the meantime, I have to say that absent new evidence my beliefs about Alexander’s lineage remain unchanged.

If you haven’t joined the Facebook group, you’ll find a link at the right hand side of this page.

Upcoming readings from Trafficke

Here are my upcoming readings from Trafficke, in case you happen to be in any of these neighborhoods. Unless noted, all events are free and open to the public.

Read about Trafficke on my website or the Ahsahta Press website

In recent months I have read from and talked about Trafficke at a house reading/book launch in Washington DC, at a meeting of the DC chapter of Coming to the Table, in two readings at the AWP conference, at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society, at the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs, the University of Illinois/Springfield, George Mason University, a house reading in Illinois, at Busboys & Poets/Hyattsville, MD, at The Writers Center, Bethesda, MD, and at The Potter’s House, DC. Many thanks to those who turned out to support me, and to join the discussion.

Several readings have been shared with Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2016), her investigation of a “kinship lynching” within her family in Jim Crow Georgia. I’ve recently discovered that Karen, too, is a Magruder descendant. See my post for 12 March 2016. Read about The Family Tree on Karen’s web site.

Now it’s summer, when I literally head for the hills…so no events scheduled until Fall. Here are two to look forward to–

Monday, Sept 24, 3pm: Karen & I will be speaking at the Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University. Building & room: Research 163. Visitor parking: Mason Pond Deck. Joining us will be Anthony Cohen, an African American historian who has twice walked to Canada on routes of the Underground Railroad, and in 2014 followed in the steps of his great-great grand uncle, who returned from freedom in Canada to enlist for service in the Civil War. A documentary of that journey, Patrick & Me, will be released nationwide in 2018. Committed to embodied encounters with history, Tony both directs his own foundation—Button Farm Living History Center, in Germantown, Maryland—and serves as Director of Historical Interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he is developing an immersion program in the experience of the enslaved at Great Hopes Plantation.

No details yet, but Karen & I expect to be speaking in Baltimore in October…stay tuned!


Michael W. Twitty: I Can’t Hide Mine, Please Don’t Hide Yours: An Open Letter to Ben Affleck

By now (courtesy of WikiLeaks) most of the world has heard that when actor Ben Affleck appeared on Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., he persuaded Gates and the other producers to omit the revelation that his third great-grandfather, Benjamin Cole, owned slaves in Savannah, Georgia. For the show, it was a missed opportunity not only to illustrate the true complexity of our history but also to demonstrate that each of us has a choice in our own actions. Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor is on his mother’s side, while his mother herself was an activist who traveled to Mississippi during one of the most dangerous phases of the Civil Rights movement.

Among the hundreds of responses to the outing of Affleck’s secret, here is one of the best, by Michael W. Twitty at Afroculinaria. Even more amazing are the family stories posted in the comments that follow. Really, it’s like poking an anthill: just one good jab and the truth of our history comes pouring out.


Dear Ben,

Its unfortunate because of a massive internet hack we are in this particular place discussing your ancestral past. It’s horrible that your private matters were exposed because of something beyond your control. That’s untenable in any situation, but we need to address something right quick…this slavery thing.  You were embarassed, and that’s reasonable given the situation and the circumstances that produced it. But Ben Affleck, take it from a Black guy; with a platform like yours, don’t you dare be embarrassed to come from an ancestor who held enslaved people. Because….We need to know.

I don’t think many Black people really understand the profound guilt, shame or embarassment some white descendants of slave holding families feel. It’s not just that many assume personal responsibility for the past or that they grasp that their privilege or power is not just based on perceptions based on skin color.  Clearly these…

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Trafficke is here!


One day long ago, when the world and I were young, I sat down to write what I thought might turn into a 10 or 15 page sequence of poems about Alexander Magruder. I had three questions: who was he? what was he? and what, in 1652, was Maryland? Twenty years later, here is the result: 177 pages of historical narrative, prose poetry, and verse. When an interviewer asked me why I embarked on this tremendous journey, I wrote back: That’s like asking Frodo Baggins why he left the Shire! No one can predict where a path will lead.

Following my original three questions led me into deep darkness and strange light; to libraries and archives, farms and graveyards; to Scotland eight times; to new friends, new cousins, and kind strangers; to a theory about how and when and why American Magruders came to believe (and have so fiercely clung to) the idea that we are part of Clan Gregor; and to very hard truths about our Magruder legacy in the American south.

Fair warning! Trafficke is not your typical book of family history or genealogy. You may want to read an excerpt before parting with your hard-earned dollars. Find an excerpt at Apartment Poetry 5; or at Evening Will Come, where it appears with a short statement about other poets whose work influenced the inception of Trafficke.

From the book’s back cover:

“If ignorance     is innocence / all is true    all is false.” Thus Trafficke plows under the surface of our collective amnesia and unearths a family past–beginning in Reformation Scotland, ending in slavery’s abolition in Maryland–that is our American past. History and myth, treachery and self-preservation, prose and verse collide and change places, caught in the dialectic eddies and splinters of Tichy’s luminous formal invention. This is a work of piercing lyric intelligence and fearless heart. Trafficke changes all the rules. — Peter Streckfus

To help Trafficke become a small press best-seller, please purchase a copy at Small Press Distribution.

Or, if you would like a signed copy, contact me through this site.

For more about the book and its making, visit its very own Traffickeblog.


DNA for Genealogy

I recently had my DNA tested. After a little research, I chose b/c 1) it’s easy to use; 2)  huge number of family trees to match to (plus historical records to verify and document your tree); 3) they keep the DNA, so as technology improves you may get more results; and 4) the raw DNA data is easily downloaded, then uploaded to other sites with more powerful technical analysis tools.

I’ve uploaded my data to Family Tree DNA (for a moderate fee) and to (free). These allow you to match one-to-all (a fishing trip) or one-to-one (to zero in on someone who looks like a genuine match). I am barely beginning to understand it all, but am pleased so far.

Also, my family tree is complete (as far as I know it) on Ancestry and is public.

I have found the tutorials on the site linked below to be very helpful, including Lesson 2 which helps you figure out which company to start with. The answer may depend on where your ancestors were from, as well as what kind of information you are seeking. If you are looking for relatives within the time frame of a typical family tree, don’t skip the autosomal (atDNA). The others will take you back into deep time, but won’t show spouses, other children, cousins, etc., just a son-to-father-to-father chain or a daughter-to-mother-to-mother chain.

On the other hand, for African Americans searching for a white male ancestor, the Y-DNA test may be the most efficient way to start. has a whole page of links for learning, under the title DNA for Dummies.

Are you an American McGruther or McGruder who is not descended from Alexander Magruder?

If you have been trying in vain to figure out how you are descended from Alexander Magruder, take heed!

It has long been believed that every Magruder and McGruder in America is descended from Alexander Magruder, who was brought to Maryland as a prisoner of war in the 1650s. I recently learned from Don McGruther in Scotland that other families came to the U.S. during later waves of immigration. Some of those families arrived via Ireland and their descendants today may think of themselves as Irish American.

Don would like to find any McGruthers, McGruders–or those with other versions of the family name, such as McGrew, McCrew, or McCrue–who came separately to North America. He has compiled extensive information from public records and may be able to help you trace your Scottish ancestors. If you are interested in having your DNA analyzed, it may also be possible to establish how closely you are related to Don’s line, to the Alexander Magruder line, or to others, even without a paper trail.

The spelling of your name might be a clue. In Scotland the name was spelled variously, with McGruther, McGruder, McGrudir, and McGrouther among the most common. Magruder is a uniquely American spelling, adopted from the signature on Alexander’s 1677 will. If your family arrived later, it’s most likely you are using one of the Scottish spellings–or perhaps a different spelling altogether. A few of Alexander’s descendants do use one of the Scottish versions of the name, so to find your line of descent you’ll need more clues than just the spelling…but it is one place to start.

If you know or believe you might be descended from later immigrants, please get in touch. You can write to Don at mcgruther(at), or contact me via the Contact tab at the top of this page.

Don’t be a stranger!

African-American Magruders in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862

I’ve just published a page on Af-Am Magruders Named in Washington DC Slavery Petitions, 1862.

All those enslaved in the District of Columbia were emancipated by the Compensated Emancipation Act of 16 April 1862. Slaves were freed immediately and slave holders had 90 days to file a petition for compensation. Though the 3,100 slaves emancipated comprised less than 1% of enslaved people in the U.S., its ultimate impact was far greater, providing a legal framework and precedent on which the Emancipation Proclamation was modeled.

The website Civil War Washington has transcribed and indexed those petitions, with images of the original documents attached–an outstanding resource for any African-American searching for ancestors in the city. Because both owners and the enslaved frequently moved back and forth across city limits, this source also should be searched for those with Maryland or Virginia roots. Most former slaves left their owners immediately and by 1870 70% of the approximately 3,100 emancipated people had left the city. So even if your family has no known connection to DC, you should take a few minutes and search these petitions. The site is well designed and both quick and easy to use.

As always, the best sources for details about enslaved people are those created at moments when it was in the slave owner’s interest to provide a full name and a full description. In this case, owners had to present their slaves for examination, or, if a person had run away, produce witnesses who could testify to the slave’s condition and value. Petitions provide surnames, physical descriptions, and, in many cases, details about the enslaved person’s skills, living situation, and family members. Petitioners also had to say how and from whom they acquired each person–more priceless detail for genealogists.

More than 150 slave holders failed to file a petition. To receive compensation, each had to swear (among other things) loyalty to the Union; so most of those who failed to file are assumed to have been Southern supporters or known sympathizers. Others were residents of Maryland or Virginia, whose slaves had been living–perhaps hired out, perhaps fugitive–in the District. On 12 June 1862 Congress passed a supplemental act allowing slaves whose owners had failed to petition to file petitions for their own freedom. Each of these supplemental petitions includes the individual’s request for freedom plus the testimony of witnesses who could verify ownership, residence in the District, and other details. These “supplemental petitions” were the first instance in which slaves were allowed to petition and give testimony in a Federal court, another legal precedent with far-reaching consequences.

On my page, I list the African-American Magruders I found named in the petitions, with a few notes on their circumstances and possible connections to other families or individuals.

Bernice Bennett’s Geneaology Blog Talk Radio

Yesterday I met an extraordinary woman, Bernice Alexander Bennett, and discovered her Thursday evening Blog Talk Radio program, “Researching at the National Archives & Beyond.” Bernice’s guests are authors and researchers with wide experience. Topics among recent programs include searching incarceration records, genealogy resources in Louisiana, and Freedmen’s Bureau records. Last week’s show, Dr. Maurice Gleeson on “The Irish in the Slave Trade,” addresses both Irish men sent as bound labor to the West Indies and American colonies and Ireland’s participation in the African slave trade, and also debunks a few unfounded beliefs about these histories.

All shows are broadcast live, including call-in and write-in questions and comments from listeners, and all shows are archived–174, so far. Sound quality is not like commercial or public radio, but it’s fairly good. Broadcast is Thursday evening, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time…and one upcoming program features Edward E. Baptist, whose book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism I am reading now and highly recommend. From now on, you’ll find a link to this program in my blogroll, listed as Bernice Bennett: Genealogy Live Talk Radio.

Another resource: “Our Black Ancestry” networking site

Through fellow members of Coming to the Table, I recently learned of Our Black Ancestry, a site that includes an interactive data base for people researching various African-American surnames. Just click on the Surnames tab at the top to reach directions for how to use the site. Also recommended: post your inquiries on a RootsWeb forum for the county where your ancestors lived. CTTT’s home page reads:

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.

New regional chapters are forming, and a national gathering takes place every year. Assistance can include mentoring and support for descendants of the enslaved and descendants of enslavers who are searching for linked ancestors. For those who can’t travel to a meeting, monthly conference calls on a variety of subjects can help connect you to this community.