For 14 years, Ruby Robinson Ennis worked around her job as an educator at Southern University and taking care of her family to trace her family roots.
“It was a passion,” she said of her years of research. “I couldn’t give it up. I really couldn’t. It was truly something that appealed to me. I don’t know why but I had to get it done.”
Ennis, 74, started her research into her family genealogical history before the age of such sites as ancestery.com and others. Finding accurate names and records for many black people made it all the more challenging.
Ennis compiled her family’s story in a newly released book titled “Generations Recording: Genealogical Findings and Memories of the Gaines and Robinson Families.”
Ennis traced strands of her families to Mali, Niger and Cameroon.
It served only to strengthen the bond Ennis had for her family, something that she claims is badly missing in the black community.
“I think many of the problems we have among our people are that we’ve lost a sense of connection,” she said. “You have to feel a part of something greater than you are.”
And Ennis’ sense of connection was best exemplified through her relationship with her father, Orange Robinson.
Robinson was by all accounts an amazing man. Stern. No-nonsense. Hardworking. Loving. He was born near a plantation, reared in Tunica in West Feliciana Parish and later settled in the Scotlandville area.
Robinson outlived three wives, successfully raised nine children and lived until the incredible age of 107. Robinson died in 2006, two months shy of his 108th birthday.
“Everyday of our life, we have something to say about daddy,” said Ennis, the seventh of Robinson’s nine children.
Ennis said it was her father’s stories and her constant questions that launched her genealogical search and note taking.
“Sometimes we’d be sitting at a table and I’d ask him a question and he’d tell me and I’d write it down on a napkin,” she said.
Ennis thought it was important to put the information in book form so that her descendants could have knowledge of their past, where they came from and learn lessons from that.
She also realized it could inspire others to do the same for their families.
“You have to begin by asking the people around you, your immediate ancestors, and once you do that, you go to census reports and find them,” she said.
There has to be validation.
“You can’t just take what they say, but what they say can be an instrument that you could use to get other information,” she said.
Ennis shares many wonderful stories — along with photos, certificates and other documents — of her father, mother and other family members in “Generations Recording.” The book is well-written, well-designed, seemingly well-researched and quite entertaining. I trust that readers will enjoy reading about somebody else’s family.
In addition to the family history, Ennis chronicles the history of her beloved Scotland, where most of the Robinsons migrated from the Tunica area.
It’s unlikely that any of the Robinsons and my family are related. They were linked to the Arcola Plantation near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line and my family was from around the Ellendale Plantation in Terrebonne. But I would have liked to have met Orange Robinson.
Terry Robinson is a copy editor for The Advocate. He can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.