Finding My Roots
A Black History Story
“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell, 1984
Who am I? Where do I come from? Knowing your family history and where you come from is essential to one’s identity. Whether it’s delving deeper in a culture, religion, language, art, stories, trades, triumphs, tragedies, rituals, celebrations and more. It offers an opportunity to “walk in the shoes” of one’s ancestors. Hopefully my journey will be insightful and shed light on how to unlock your inheritance.
“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me.” — Muhammad Ali, Boxing Heavyweight, Champion of The World
A name means a lot and can sometimes unlock your past. My name is Eric Christian Smalls so to get a sneak peak of me let’s decode it. Eric means King or “Ever Ruler” and is derived from the elements ei “ever, always” and ríkr “ruler, mighty.” I knew enough people nicknamed ‘Chris’ that I didn’t think much of my middle name until a kid asked me if I was also Christian in faith. I felt embarrassed at first because I didn’t know what to say and never willingly shared my middle name after that until my 20s. I now know the foresight my parents had and wear the moniker with pride. Although my last name is Smalls it is not my paternal last name, my paternal grandfathers last name is Smith. However, much like Malcom X unfortunately discovered this is where the breadcrumbs end. “My father didn't know his last name…he got it from the slave master…all the real names of our people were destroyed during slavery.” Putting the pieces together, my name means God rules Forever or God is King. Even though my name didn’t fully unlock my past it was a start. As the wife of Malcom X said, “[we] had a Past before Slavery.” Clues to a puzzle of my life.
“If a Race has no History … it stands in danger of being exterminated.” — Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History Month
Most African Americans don’t know their true history because of Slavery. Many invent their own out of a feeling of insecurity or to engender a mythical pride. So much so, that Aaron McGruder encapsulated it in an episode of his cartoon show The Boondocks in 2008. In it, Pops tells his two grandkids about their “Great-great-great granddaddy”, Catcher Freeman a heroic figure who rebelled against Slavery much like Nat Turner or Tarantino’s D’Jango. However, the grandkids especially Riley are skeptical:
Riley: That n**** lying! Come on Granddad, I may not know nothing about history but I ain’t stupid! Nothing about that story is true. The sheer improbability sparks doubt in him.
Pops: It is true Catcher Freeman is a Hero and don’t you ever forget it!
Riley: Grandad always making up some shit about history…how come everyone we related to is someone famous: the first n**** to goto the Moon, the first n**** to pole-vault…he made up Catcher Freeman!
Huey: Holding out room for hope, “how would you know [Riley]?”
Is the story real? And if so are they actually related to you?
These are two questions I also had to face when I finally learned about Robert Smalls, who in a way became my Catcher Freeman. He was an escaped Slave turned Congressman who became famous after the Civil War and during the Reconstruction Period that followed. He both offered hope and once again the possibility of disappointment — another dead end. Surprisingly and much to my amazement his story is indeed authentic. As much as I would like to stake a claim to his legacy, without comparing our DNA directly or of one of his known descendents, I cannot with certainty at this time. His harrowing life journey nonetheless is inspiring!
“If you know the Enemy and know Yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Early during my sophomore year at Stanford in 2013, a friend Kia suggested I watch “Finding Your Roots” by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. After watching, it inspired me to follow up on my personal journey of discovering my own roots. I went online to 23&Me and had my DNA kit shipped to my mailbox. When it finally arrived, I spit in a tube and put it in the dropoff box outside my dorm Kimbal. A little while later, I received my Ancestry & Health results. It was helpful to know which percentages and regions of the world I came from and which traits I can pass on but it didn’t tell me everything. I still had questions about the details…Who were they? How did they struggle? What did they accomplish? to name a few. Like the story of Robert Smalls I wanted to know the intimate details of their lives. I wanted to get more personal. The search continued!
It is not for Kings, O Lemuel — it is not for Kings to drink wine, nor for Princes strong drink,
lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
— Proverbs, 31:4–5, The Bible
In 2017, 23&Me, updated their database to include famous people in history. They shared a blog post to announce the update, “If your lineage carries haplogroup R-M405, for example, you and King Henry IV of France can trace your paternal lines back to the father of haplogroup R-M405.” You can even learn if you’re related to Napoleon or Thomas Jefferson.
Ironically, I didn’t even see the blog post. Because it was four years after my original test, I thought that was the end of the line and I had nearly given up on my search! It would even be another three more years until I stumbled across the truth about my lineage. “What do you and Rameses III have in common? An ancient common ancestor on your paternal line.”
Finding my own roots was like striking gold — only priceless! Ramses III became my Robert Smalls and the key to unlocking the rest of my past — X marks the spot! I dove head first into the history of The Ramesside Dynasty. The name Ramses means “The Maat of Ra is powerful, Son of Ra.” Maat is the Goddess of Justice & Ra is the Sun God. I started with Ramses III triumphant reign, victorious battles, and learned about his tragic end on the level of a Shakespearian drama. It was a cautionary tale and begged the obvious question: who else he was related to in Egyptian history. Could he be the son of Ramses II or more famously known as Ramses The Great, or “The Great Ancestor” known by the Egyptians? Was he related to others like Nefertiti? Or even more ancient ones like Imhotep? The search was on! And I wasn’t stopping until I got to the bottom of it — leaving no stone unturned. After doing a lot of digging, I hit bedrock and answered virtually all of my inquiries. It turns out Ramses II is not the father of Ramses III he’s actually his Grandfather! The easter eggs I found were like an onion with many layers to peel back.
One of them was that Queen Maetnefrure of Khatti, who’s the grandmother, of Ramses III, is the daughter of The Hittite King. She joined Ramses The Great’s hand in marriage after the signing of the first known Peace Treaty in Human History between Egyptians & Hittites which is still chiseled on a wall at The Temple of Karnak and The Ramesseum. In fact, a copy of The Treaty is also displayed at the United Nations HQ in New York. The journey was exhilarating! What else was there to know? Like Hansel and Gretel I kept following the trail of hints.
I now had an avalanche of clues revealed through thousands of years including old burial sites, monuments, statues, funerary objects, houses, art, temples, hieroglyphs, family portraits and more still in Egypt or scattered in Museums and collections spread across the World. Even though this all came as a great surprise, I was well on my way to discovering it. I had visited the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA multiple times and remarked at the similarities in features between myself but thought that’s where the connection ends. I even checked out the sole copy of ‘Ancient Egyptian Architectural Design: A Study of the Harmonic System’ by Alexander Badawy from Stanford’s Green Library in 2014. Moreover, I watched innumerable documentaries on Ancient Egypt but purely as an intellectual matter in religion and engineering to satiate my curiosity.
Given the short period of time between what some Egyptologist call the New Kingdom and Middle Kingdom, I contemplated if there was a bridge between them. And lo and behold there was. Going back just a few generations, I discovered Amenhotep III was the “Great great granddaddy” of Ramses The Great. Amenhotep III whose name means Amen the King of the Gods is satisfied, was the father of Akenthaten. Born Amenhotep IV, he changed his name after becoming the first monotheist in history. Akenthaten’s wife was Nefetiti whose name means “The Beautiful One has Come” and whose legend matched her namesake and everyone knows their son King Tut.
I could hardly believe it — the pieces of the puzzle just fell together perfectly!
The more faces I saw of Pharaohs the more I was struck by their features. I have the eyes of Ramses, the nose of Amenhotep, the ears of Tut and the lips of Nefertiti. In a weird way, because of slavery, so far, I was able to learn more about my ancient family history than my modern family history. I have to credit the ingenuity of my ancestors for preserving their history for us but I suspect this isn’t uncommon for Black people because it shows the great impact the erasure Slavery had.
“Build your own Pyramids and write your own Hieroglyphs!” — Kendrick Lamar, HiiiPoWeR, Section.80
At Stanford, I learned a phrase that echoed in my mind: “Leave your legacy.” While founding The Robotics Club as a freshman in 2012, it dawned on me that this would be part of my legacy and it would live as long as the University itself. After leaving to start MANNA, I wanted to make sure I built something that could last far beyond my lifetime and that’s one of the beauties of imbuing your spirit in robots. One fond connection I found between my love of robotics and my ancestors was how they thought of The Afterlife. They imagined “Ushabtis” which were basically robots that would do your work for you so you could enjoy Paradise; they even buried themselves with small figurines to symbolize this idea. Knowing my history definitely raised the bar! I now know my family history stretches from Pharaohs to Presidents. I’ve accomplished much without such wisdom but knowing it inspires me to reach even higher and keep building for posterity.
As a passion project, I’d love to help preserve, rebuild, and restore Egypt’s legacy and their many monuments. Much like Thutmose IV (Dad of Amenhotep III) did before me after napping under the Sphinx who visited him in his daydream. In fact there is now what’s called The Dream Stele he erected to commemorate that very moment resting between the paws of the Sphinx. All of these stone statues would have been filled with color in their original condition. At the top of my list is: Imhotep’s Step-pyramid for Djoser at Saqqara, The Great Pyramids at Giza, The Sphinx, Abu Simbel, The Ramesseum, Medinet Habu, and The Holy Temple of Karnak which is the largest place of worship in the world. Moreover, I’d put everyone’s body, Sarcophagus, and funerary objects back to rest where they belong in their tombs at Pyramids or The Valley of the Kings & Queens. This is the least I can do in the spirit of Horus. Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist shares that vision.
In the process, it would be my pleasure to test & trace the genetic links between The Pharaohs of the Old & New Kingdoms. In light of this knowledge, I plan on changing my last name to Ramses. That said, I cannot wait to share this treasure of heritage with my own kids while knowing they won’t have to spend a quarter century figuring out who they really are like I did. I envision myself taking them on a tour of Egypt, pointing out the familiar faces, places their forefathers lived, and sharing their stories. I wonder how much more they will be able to accomplish or Dream. I only wish for everyone especially Blacks to find their roots regardless of the outcome. Ultimately, reality is stranger and far more fascinating than fiction.
Special thanks to 23&Me, Ancestry, and MyHeritage as well as RPI & Joe Corall for their help with my journey to finding my roots! ❤
P.S. From now on my first gift I’ll give for birthdays, Christmas and other holidays will be a DNA test so as many friends & family members I know can find their own roots. If we all did this we could unlock so much wisdom hidden by the passage of time.
 RPI Egyptian Genealogy, http://homepages.rpi.edu/~holmes/Hobbies/Genealogy2/ps23/ps23_006.htm
 Rosicrucian Museum, https://egyptianmuseum.org/
 Robert Smalls, https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/21764
 Malcom X, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-X9yMnhM6w
 Muhammad Ali before knowing his name https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxFHQd-rj0A
 Muhammad Ali after knowing his name https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsL4r_yhMLM
 Ancient Colored Statues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jmMWohs1XM
 What Pyramids Use to Look like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujX9MEnYzU4
 What the Sphinx use to look like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk3Mvd_AZHw
 Ramses II Kings List, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramesseum_king_list
 Ramses III Kings List, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medinet_Habu_king_list
 Joe Corall, https://joecorall.com/tree/ramses-iii-pharaoh-egypt
 Ushabtis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ushabti
 Egyptian–Hittite Peace Treaty https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian%E2%80%93Hittite_peace_treaty
 MyHeritage AI Animator, https://www.myheritage.com/deep-nostalgia
 Skyscrappers as modern Pyramids https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOz4ZoEMMl8
 Seti I, Father of Ramses II, King’s List at Abydos https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abydos_King_List
 Ramses II King’s List in Turin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turin_King_List
 Karnak King’s List at The Louvre in Paris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karnak_King_List
 Malcom X on Ramses II Abu Simbel Move & Blacks relation to Egypt https://youtu.be/kXlWLyU--MA
 Stanford on Genetic Genealogy https://web.stanford.edu/~philr/Bachman/DNABachman3.html
 23&Me on Whose Y To Use? Paternal Ancestry https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-and-you/whose-y-to-use-paternal-ancestry-for-ladies/
 Ancestry on Y-dna, Mtdna, And Autosomal Dna Tests https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Y-DNA-mtDNA-and-Autosomal-DNA-Tests