Canadian discovers secret about slave roots

  • Finding family: Roslyn Macgregor and Mike Rilstone filmed relatives (Photograph by Paul Johnston)

    Finding family: Roslyn Macgregor and Mike Rilstone filmed relatives (Photograph by Paul Johnston)

A Canadian woman discovered a family secret about her Bermudian-born grandmother — that her family’s roots stretched back to slaves on the island.

Roslyn Macgregor, 71, said she knew her grandmother, Emily Millicent Spicer, was born in Bermuda and went to England as a child — but knew little else about her.

However, Ms Macgregor said that she found online emigration records that listed her grandmother, her grandmother’s sister and her great grandmother’s ethnic origin as “West Indian, African, Black”.

The family had travelled to Liverpool in England when Ms Macgregor’s grandmother was 12.

Ms Macgregor said: “When they left Bermuda in the early 1900s, they could pass for white. So it was a family secret.”

She added: “I now believe that it is possible, even likely, that since they had family to go to and since they were fair-skinned and could pass for white, they took the opportunity, poor as they were, to go where Gram and her sister could continue their education past elementary school.”

Ms Macgregor first came to Bermuda as a teenager with her grandmother and brother in 1963.

Since she made the immigration records discovery about 20 years ago, she has visited Bermuda several times to try to track down long-lost relatives and capture her family history on video.

Ms Macgregor said that she had been able to trace back seven generations to Margaret Burrows, born a slave in 1785.

She added that her mother, who died in 1995, never spoke about Ms Spicer’s background or her family.

“I knew so little about them. I knew so little about slavery and the aftermath of slavery,” she added.

Ms Macgregor said the video project and her trips to Bermuda were about “owning” her grandmother’s roots, as well as her own.

She explained: “I think everyone is in search of home, in some way.

“This isn’t my only home, but it is certainly part of it.

“When we find our roots, we find ourselves. And in the process, I’ve found myself.”

Ms Macgregor, in Bermuda to talk to relatives, brought along her second cousin, Mike Rilstone, a professional film-maker, to help capture family history on video.

She said: “He has been filming some of my old cousins whose stories I didn’t want to lose.

“I’m trying to understand who my grandmother and her family were and what it was like for them.”

Ms Macgregor said they had shot about 4˝ hours of footage of family members on the trip and that the recordings would likely be made available online for family members to watch.

She said that through the project, she had discovered “awesome, courageous women”. Ms Macgregor added: “I am awed by my Bermudian cousins, their stories certainly, but mostly by who they are — fierce, determined, courageous, creative women who have survived the limitations placed on them when they were young by society.

“As they have shared family stories I think they have put me in touch both with who my female ancestors were and with who I am.”

She said she now felt Bermuda was a second home.

Ms Macgregor said: “As soon as we start to fly in over the water, it’s like I’m home.

“Telling the truth about our roots is a way of coming home.”

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Published Apr 11, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 11, 2018 at 6:28 am)

Canadian discovers secret about slave roots

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