On the Hunt for Lionel Dugas


I called my mom one weekend to ask about her maternal grandfather. My online research had not revealed anything, and I hoped that she could provide some missing links. The U.S. Census takers seemed to have skipped his home – which was surely in the middle of nowhere – for a few censuses, so my great-grandfather and his family were not listed. Unfortunately, my mother knew nothing of his side of the family. I found that to be strange since he was a major male figure in her life after her father died of cancer when she was just a teen. I called my grandmother three times, and she never answered the phone. Without even thinking, I grabbed my purse, camera, and phone, and headed out of the door. I was about to do one thing I said I would never do alone.

On a warm November morning in Louisiana, I drove about an hour to the middle of nowhere to find evidence of my great-grandfather’s existence. Our family’s cemetery is out in an area that no longer has a name. Cemeteries are creepy in general, but this one is way off the beaten path on a gravel road surrounded by woods. It’s a place I earlier said I would never go alone, but I insisted on getting some information to move forward with my genealogy research. I could only recall being there twice, so I navigated there based on years-old memories since Google Maps couldn’t offer any assistance.

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Discoveries on the Family Tree

When I purchased an AncestryDNA kit, I also began piecing together my family tree. It is something that I have wanted to do for over a decade after experiencing an awful family reunion. It happened around my freshman year of college, and it was planned by distant cousins who didn’t even label our branch of the family on the family tree. We were the biggest portion of the branch that showed up to the festivities, but we weren’t even labeled as family! There hasn’t been another major family gathering since then, and I’ve been trying to put a bug in my older cousin’s ear that she needs to spearhead the event planning. Well, here were are a decade later, and nothing has happened. I took matters into my own hand and started working on my family tree. It has become addicting.

I have not spent a great deal of time researching my paternal side of the family because someone previously did it. Instead I’ve placed my efforts into my maternal side of the family, and I’ve added 305 people so far. It’s funny to call my grandma and ask questions like, “How are we related to Rose again? I know she’s our cousin, but how?”

I was surprised to discover that my family has lived in the same 50 mile radius since before the Emancipation Proclamation. We stayed in rural Louisiana for generations, and I still don’t know how to feel about that fact. I find it interesting that no one became a part of the Great Migration. African Americans were headed north for a better life in droves, but my family stayed in an area that didn’t appear to have anything to offer them. Why?

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My AncestryDNA Results

Independence Day weekend was my most uneventful time off this year, and I’m not mad about it. My plan to attend the Essence Festival in New Orleans failed at the last minute, and it was my first time missing the “Black Family Reunion” in some years. Instead, I spent the entire weekend relaxing alone at home because I had been spending so much of my spare time stroking the ego of a man, and was over it. I kicked my feet up and watched Power, Underground, and Greenleaf, while browsing the internet and sipping Riesling. Twas lovely.

At some point in my internet browsing, I came across an interesting discussion within my travel community about DNA testing. I erroneously thought the only ancestry testing possible was through mitochondrial DNA, i.e., the maternal lineage, leaving too many unknowns on the paternal side. For that reason, I never found any true interest in it until then. Furthermore, DNA testing was marked in my mind as a scam after watching a series on Dateline or 20/20 where people submitted DNA testing to different companies and got different results.

I’m a spur-of-the-moment kind of gal. Some of the best moments in my life came from spontaneity, so no need to change a formula that works. After browsing through my travel community, taking everyone’s word for it, and failing to do any of my own thorough research, I went online and purchased a discounted AncestryDNA kit.

Before I even got my results, I was filled with assumptions. I expected to have mostly West African ancestry, of course. I mean, I’m chocolate brown with African features. Look at that nose, Maury. Look at that hair texture. Look at those lips, Maury!

From my father, I expected some Caribbean blood there, which just goes back to Africa anyway. But aren’t we all from Africa anyway?! On my mother’s side, I expected a small trace of European ancestry. I mean, I’m from Louisiana. We have French surnames that could simply be the result of one of my ancestors taking the last name of his master or quite possibly being his descendant. Also, no multigenerational American is purely one ethnicity, but I expected to be about 90% African.

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