A man traces the roots of his surname through history, from the seed of Adam through the barren fields of slavery to Southern church communities.
Davidson (Manufacturing African American Self-Employment, 2008) begins this family biography, the first in a planned trilogy, by drawing parallels to the Christian creation story. He uncovers whom he believes to be the likely patriarch of his family, the Davidsons: a “Negro boy named Adam.” He then goes on to map five successive generations of his family by mining public archives and personally interviewing his own family members and the company they kept. In this research, he takes an expansive view of the genealogy of his surname, which was likely adopted from his ancestors’ slave masters, a Scottish family who settled in the New World near present-day North Carolina and later moved to Kentucky. He also highlights the African-American experience at different times in America’s history. One landmark is the 1870 U.S. census, which marked the first time that formerly enslaved people were counted by the government and provided later African-Americans with a key to tracing their ancestry. However, much of the historical context here is repetitious and sometimes sprinkled with contemporary references to movies and television shows. The author also includes numerous tally tables and surname-frequency charts (drawing on county records, census numbers and enlistment rolls). However, there are a few intriguing characters worth exploring, including three different Alexander Davidsons from different generations, whom the author calls “The Immigrant,” “The Orphan” and “The Colonial Man.” The author not only connects his ancestry to these forgotten Americans, but also to well-known historical figures such as Booker T. Washington and John D. Rockefeller (the “D.” stands for Davison). Overall, however, the book’s many anecdotes don’t coalesce in a meaningful way.
A tangential, unfocused trek through African-American genealogy.