When the first season of the television show Who Do You Think You Are aired, I totally got involved in finding out about my ancestors. My father was thrilled with the things that we found about his family. The Hamp family. I’ll admit that I became obsessed, searching websites and documents when I should have been sleeping and working.
We’re into Season Three of the television show, my father has passed away, and still I search. I’m not exactly sure what or who it is I’m looking for, or why I’m so hell-bent on finding it or them. Something or someone pushes me on, and so on I go.
My brother sent me a box filled with documents and photos – a treasure trove for the searching soul. In this box, I discovered my great-uncle; Benjamin Franklin Hamp. There was a picture of Benjamin Franklin Hamp in this box, and if you take your finger and cover his mouth on this picture – the face you will see looking at you – is mine.
The search for one, Benjamin Franklin Hamp began immediately, with the best information coming from a letter in that treasure trove box from my brother. This letter, dated May 31, 1988, was written by Benjamin’s son, John, who at the time was searching for family history. In this letter I discovered that Benjamin’s Mother (whose name ironically was Barbara Hamp) died either at childbirth or shortly thereafter. There is a paragraph in this letter that just tears at my heart. It reads as follows: “B. F. Hamp (my Father) was put in an orphanage when his Mother died and remained there until the age of twelve. At which time he was placed into the hands of a farmer. He was then to work for the farmer until he reached 21 years of age. The farmer would then give him a suit of clothes and $100 and he would be released from his bondage. The farmer who took him was very cruel. In due time, my father ran away and for a few years after that he worked for another farmer.”
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that my Great Uncle was – well – a slave. I never, ever imagined such a scenario in my family.
This picture I have of Benjamin shows him with his Father – my Great Grandfather Emanuel – when Benjamin was probably around 12. So – if he could see his father – why was he living in bondage on that farm? Why wasn’t he with his / my family?
I know I can never find all the answers, and I don’t even know what having all the answers would do for me. I mean, I can’t even answer questions about some of the decisions I’ve made in my own life, let alone try to figure out why decisions were made in the 1800’s.
Still – there is a part of me that aches for that little boy in whose face I see my own. There is a connection I feel with this boy – this man – my Great Uncle Benjamin Franklin Hamp. Born February 8, 1878 to a woman who never got to hold him or see him or watch him grow. A woman who name was: Barbara Hamp. The whole thing gives me chills…