RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The call that beckoned me back to my earliest roots on American soil, wasn’t even about my roots at all. It was about a job at 8News.

I moved to Richmond, excited about the change in my career path. But I never anticipated the emotional, painful and joyful journey it would lay at my feet.

Retracing My Roots

That journey ended with me at Mt. Airy in Warsaw — now a working farm, formerly a plantation — meeting with a descendant of the family who owned mine. It began with new hints on and an unexpectedly expanded family tree.

But Ancestry family trees, like most online, can be edited by any approved family member who thinks the connections are theirs and misspellings were rampant throughout the tree, even for my own grandfather, so I initially dismissed it.

But an instinct to look up some of the family members one day led me to research done by the historian Richard Dunn

8News Anchor Deanna Allbrittin retraces her roots, uncovering previously unknown links to her family tree at the Library of Virginia (Photo: 8News)

The detailed tree is thanks to Dunn’s four decades of poring over hundreds of records for the Tayloes, one of Virginia’s earliest prominent families. Dunn was able to build detailed family trees spanning up to 100 years at Mt. Airy. Suddenly I was looking at a generation of people born within a couple of decades of the Civil War, sharing my mother’s maiden name.

That alone, wasn’t enough. But many members of that family had been moved to Alabama, where my mom, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been born. And one member of the final branch of an Mt. Airy family tree was named Albert — the same name as my great-grandfather.

But as any genealogist will tell you — and Library of Virginia archivist Lydia Neuroth certainly told me — the same name is not confirmation. Many people have the same name, even those of the same age.

Neuroth is the project manager for Virginia Untold, which provides digital access to records that document some of the lived experiences of enslaved and free Black and multiracial people in the library’s collections.

She walked me through the kinds of questions I and others would need to try and answer to confirm a connection. Apparently able to answer those satisfactorily, I got as good a confirmation as I could’ve ever expected.

“This seems pretty well-documented in terms of connecting the link between the Albert that’s moved to the Alabama plantation and your actual great-grandfather,” Neuroth said. “You’ve gotten more confirmation than most people doing their family history ever do. I would be pretty confident in saying that this is the same person.”

What Neuroth meant, was I could be more confident in looking, again, back through my — yes, now I could confidently say my — family tree.

My Pre-Emancipation Family Tree

There was a lot to uncover about the weavers, spinners, domestic servants and field hands among my many times’ great-grandparents. My oldest identified great-grandparents were Franky and Israel Yeatman, both born in 1766 according to Richard Dunn.

And, among my many times’ great-aunts and uncles, like Nancy Yeatman Carter, plenty of gardeners, dairy maids, blacksmiths and sailors.  Nancy was the sister of my four times great-grandmother Eliza Yeatman Ward.

Franky Yeatman: 1766 – 1852

Israel’s wife

Franky Yeatman (1766-1852) — Parents unidentified. Probably born at Mount Airy, and started to work in the Tayloe’s mansion at about age 10. Her six children were all born before the slave inventories started in 1808. In the first inventory, Franky was a Domestic servant, valued at £90 at age 42. Valued at £80 in 1814. Continued as a Domestic servant through ages 43-65. Retired 66-86, died in 1852 at age 86. Six children.

Nancy Yeatman Carter: 1791 – ?

Israel Yeatman & Franky Yeatman’s daughter

Nancy Yeatman Carter (1791-?) — Franky & Israel Yeatman’s daughter, born at Mount Airy. Probably began as a domestic at about age 10. In the first slave inventory of 1808, Nancy was a Dairy maid, valued at £70 at age 16. Valued at £80 in 1814. She continued in the Dairy through ages 16-26, Spinner 27-41, 44-50, 55-69. Retired 70-74. At emancipation, moved to Washington DC at age 74. Thirteen children by two husbands: William Harwood (the five elder children) & Jacob Carter (the eight younger children).

The level of detail is only possible because, unlike many slaveowners, multiple generations of Tayloes kept detailed slave inventories. They identified slaves by not only their mothers but also their fathers. They also recorded more details than most others about births, deaths, the types of jobs they were forced to work and more.

Before the earliest inventories, my ancestors could only be found in other types of records that continued to hammer home that they were considered property, not human beings.

The wills and tax records in Essex and Richmond counties don’t provide the kind of detail the Tayloes’ inventories do. But, I was still able to find some of the earliest ancestors documented by Dunn by first name in those county records.

So as always with this journey, with every part of this process, each painful moment is juxtaposed with something joyful. Every detail that elicits tears — like a family member sold or dying just before emancipation — is followed by another that reminds me of my ancestors’ strength.

My great-great-grandfather, who was 20 years old when the Civil War ended, survived.

And I, 158 years later, have thrived.

I’m able to pursue my passion and work for pay, just an hour from where he and generations of my family toiled for none at all. So close, that my voice, my face and my work all broadcast across the very land where they lived enslaved.

I have become — I am, my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

For more information on how you can explore your own family history, click here.