On family history

My family is Yoruba, but our last name is uncommon, and doesn’t sound obviously Yoruba or even Nigerian for that matter. In fact one of the guys I never dated was unique because he had the same last name as I did and that was the first time I had seen that last name outside of my family. When I meet people that I’ve been corresponding with through email they often tell me in person that they thought I was Japanese because of my last name. Thankfully my first name is extremely Yoruba so when I introduce myself to other Nigerians they don’t question my background.

A colleague even told me that when my employer was hiring and deciding which applicants to interview, on the day that my Japanese colleague and I were interviewed, they thought I was her based on our last name. (Funny enough they hired my colleague due to her better qualifications, but she ended up getting pregnant soon after so they hired me to replace her during her maternity leave, then a position was created while I was there and I applied for it and got it and five years later I’m still working there!)

I don’t know much about the origin of my surname, but it’s something I intend to explore. One of my oyinbo (Caucasian) colleagues is interested in genealogy and she’s managed to trace parts of at least one side of her family (her great, great grandfather I think) to when they first left their country of origin (in Europe) and immigrated to Canada. Along the way, her family name went through changes in spelling and pronunciation, which I guess happens in an attempt to blend in with the new country. Genealogy is quite a common hobby of retired oyinbos here; there’s something very reassuring about knowing where you come from. A former pastor at my old church was also piecing together his family tree because when you think of it, genealogy is a puzzle with a goal of finding missing pieces (people) and figuring out where in the big picture they fit. I bet it’s also fun to uncover scandals too!

The older I get, the more interested in my roots I become. I don’t think I’m interested in generating a family tree as much as I want to know what life was like when my relatives were young, what Nigeria was like long ago. I regret that I didn’t get to ask my great grandmother various questions before she passed away in 2005, but my interest in my roots didn’t spark until late 2003, and my last visit to Nigeria before that was in 1994. Because I knew I wasn’t going to be in Nigeria any time soon, I focused my efforts on learning Yoruba and Pidgin from online forums. But God is good: I still have two grandmothers, one grandfather and various relatives who can give me some information. I just need to figure out what I want to know and the best way to capture the information. My father’s mom is quite old and is hard of hearing so I may need to count on my dad and his sister to remember various things about her life.

Not every family from Nigeria is like my own but I know that most of the record-keeping of people my father’s age and older was by memory. As far as I know my dad doesn’t have a birth certificate and his name isn’t recorded in any hospital records or at any church as is the case for the relatives of some Canadians who seek their roots to Europe, but this doesn’t mean that all is lost. The next time that I am in Nigeria I intend to look through the things in my dad’s room in his father’s house to see if I can find some items that might provide information on our history, like letters perhaps. And something I can do right here in Canada is something I’ve always wanted to do: look through old pictures and see if there are any clues I can use to piece together our family’s history.

Do you know much about your family’s history? If you don’t, would you know where to go to get that information?

Want my monthly messages?

Subscribe for a monthly, often personal, message from Good Naija Girl.

Powered by ConvertKit

15 thoughts on “On family history

  1. Easy…. Tie up all relatives older than sixty with ropes and lock them in a room and grill them until they cry. Don't let any of them go until they answer all your questions!!

    Heh heh!! *evil laughter*

    I ask my grandparents lots of questions until they shoo me away

    • hehehe…I'm just having a vision of all my family members together in a room. There would be bloodshed and tears, and that would be without me saying a word I'm certain! ;)

  2. Goodness, yes! The Chinese have a history of keeping genealogy books, and they're traditionally passed on to anyone with the same last name (well, traditionally, males, anyway). I'd love to get my hands on one of these myself (I don't see why, in the 21st century, it would be a problem for a WOMAN to look at it) so I can find out more about my ancestry. However, considering that I can't read Chinese, I'm also going to need the documents translated!

    • I'm glad to hear that! You're the first to tell me that; imagine. I think the fact that you and I share four letters in our surnames (in the same order too!) helps…first person I know who I can say that about!

  3. Interesting post.

    Yes, i know much about my family.

    Goodluck in your investigation/research.

  4. Well, I have tried to know mine oh, but hmmm…. dey no wan tell me…lol…. I think it is important to know though… I won't relent till I know it…:)

    • Are you sure they don't want to tell you? Maybe you didn't do a good job of showing that you were truly interested o! See how I blame you? :)

  5. I can relate to this– I also have an uncommon (Yoruba) last name and i have had a colleague that works in a different state ask me if i was Japanese. I had only communicated with him via phone and email. I guess it could sound like a japanese word and the fact that I have an english first name probably confused him further.

    I am yet to meet anyone except family that has this last name. They exist, since google says so.

  6. I actually don't know much about my family history now that I think of it…I've heard a few stories here and there from my parents but nothing substantial…hmmm…u have me wondering now…

  7. I am as curious about my history. In fact I need a genealogist(is that what they are called?) like yesterday!! My late maternal grandma had some foreign connections which i am dying to investigate…..Before some recessive gene will make me give birth to african oyibo like that couple..

  8. Thankfully my grandfather (paternal) wrote a book that was distributed to all the grandkids when he died- electronic copies! So I know a great deal about my Paternal side and unfortunately very little about my Mum's side!

  9. It's been a while since I was here last, I blame my April challenge. But I'm back now. Great topic you have here. I know a fair bit about my family but not as much as my curiousity would like. I remember doing family tries in primary science and wishing any of my grandparents were there to answer my questions. I like TMI's option, maybe it's time to encourage my dad to write an autobiography. Hmmm…

  10. "When I meet people that I’ve been corresponding with through email they often tell me in person that they thought I was Japanese because of my last name" well the reason why that is because your Yoruba and Japanese pronunciations and enunciation are very similar. They are very close in mimicking sounds of the alphabet. Very sharp. Lie OKEWALE could be a Japanese name except for that L sound. It's O KE WA RE in Japanese all of that could be translation into Kanji.

    So it's not surprising at all. I don't know what your last name is but i bet that is is very easy for a Japanese person to pronounce accurately. Especially if the phonetics are sharp.

    I think about my history all the time. My boyfriend calls me his "geisha from jamaica" because of my middle name.

Comments are closed.