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?