Picture a Family Reunion…
Family members engage with distant relatives seen only once a year, sharing stories of childhood memories.
Now, imagine one of those stories leads to an astonishing and life-changing discovery: you’re descended from celebrated abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
In 2011, the Ross family was bewildered when they uncovered just this at their family reunion.
Audrey Dillard (Ross), descended from Harriet Tubman, was in utter disbelief when she found her heritage paired with Tubman’s.
“I remember being at the family reunion and seeing all these binders with information about Harriet Tubman. So, I ask my cousin, “Why on earth is all that information here?” And she said, “You really don’t know do you.” And when I found out, I was in shock!”
Tubman was born in Maryland circa 1822, so to find that a large majority of her relatives still called this area home was an exciting discovery for the Ross family. Through genealogical research and family recollections and conversations, it was uncovered that Dillard’s grandfather, Granderson “Grady” Ross, was in fact Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben Ross’s nephew. That meant that the Ross family of Northern Virginia and Maryland were in fact direct descendants of Harriet Tubman.
When the realization sank in, Dillard, and her extended family, including her mother, Juanita Ross-Levesque (Granderson Ross’ daughter), who is Tubman’s “second blood cousin on the paternal side,” and likely the closest living relative to Harriet Tubman today, decided that they wanted to follow in Harriet’s footsteps. Therefore, in June of 2011, Harriet’s modern-day relatives took the same journey along the underground railroad, that she so courageously traversed over 165 years ago.
Tubman was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad for approximately nine years, and during that time she guided countless slaves to freedom. Tubman is revered as one of America’s most historically significant persons. She fought for human rights and freedoms for the duration of her life. Despite the risks and bounty for her capture, she continuously returned to the south via the Underground Railroad to assist with the freeing and relocation of slaves, and continued with her mission to serve and help others until her final days.
During their journey along the Underground Railroad, the Ross family physically and emotionally connected with Tubman and her plight. They fully comprehended the sheer will, strength, fearlessness, and determination that Tubman, and other travelers along the route, possessed. “It was truly a life changing journey,” stated Dillard.
As they continue to delve into their family history and uncover a deeper connection to Tubman, the Ross family hopes to find new relatives and “family members just like us,” who will continue to celebrate, share, and keep the legacy of Harriet Tubman alive and thriving.
To do your own genealogical research or to learn more about Arlington and Northern Virginia’s history, please visit the Center for Local History at Central Library. You can also contact us by email or by calling 703-228-5966.