How an AncestryDNA test led to a mind-blowing discovery about his history.
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AncestryDNA

In 1838, Georgetown University sold 272 slaves to the state of Louisiana.

And Jeremy Alexander — an executive assistant at Georgetown University — is a direct descendant of one of them.

All screenshots via Upworthy.


Alexander learned of his lineage thanks to an AncestryDNA test that he took in 2014. It was an astonishing discovery and one that gave him a clearer picture of his identity and, more importantly, the history of his family.

"It's a good sense of mind just to be able to call their names," he says. "To identify, to make them human."

What followed is a moving story of self-discovery — for Alexander, for the descendants of the 272, and for Georgetown. Check it out right here:

"He took a DNA test and found out he is a descendant of slaves who were owned and sold by the institution he currently works for."

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It all started when Alexander wanted to know just how far back his roots go.

Since 2008, Alexander and his wife, Leslie, started building their Ancestry family tree right after their son was born. They wanted to trace their family history back as far as they possibly could in order to learn the names of distant ancestors over multiple generations.

Alexander building his family tree on Ancestry.com.

He'd been curious about where he came from and would even ask his elders to tell him stories about relatives he was never able to meet.

So it was no wonder that Alexander was ecstatic when he was finally able to take the AncestryDNA test to dive deeper into his heritage. And Ancestry made it easy to connect with a family member Alexander had never met, who had some interesting information about her own story — that turned out to be part of his story as well.

"I received an email [through Ancestry] from Melissa Kemp, my third cousin, that I was a descendant of the Georgetown 272 slaves that were sold back in 1838," he remembers. He was the descendant of Anna Mahoney, who later became Anna Mahoney Jones, a woman who, with her son Arnold and her sister Louisa, were transferred from Alexandria down to Louisiana in this sale.

The Katherine Jackson Ship manifest with Anna, Arnold, and Louisa Jones' names on it. Seeing this document, and the age of her son Arnold, had a profound impact on Alexander because his son was the same age Arnold was at that time. Image from National Archives and Records Administration, via Ancestry.com

"I couldn't believe that she just told me this information. I had to tell her, I said, 'You have to understand, Melissa, that I actually work for Georgetown University. That's where you're talking to me right now. I'm sitting here in my office.' She was blown away."

Soon after Alexander learned about his connection to Georgetown, the university also decided to finally make amends for its history of slavery and offered a formal apology.

"We hosted two major events," says Marcia Chatelain, associate professor for the history department at Georgetown. "The first was to offer a formal apology to the descendants of the 272, and then we rededicated two buildings on Georgetown's campus."

It was a truly powerful event for Alexander and one that moved him to tears. No doubt the message that Georgetown delivered was one he'll remember forever.

"As we seek to more deeply understand our story," said Georgetown president John J. DeGioia, "we too deepen our understanding of our shared American story."

"We offer this apology for the sins against your ancestors."

A deeper appreciation of our past can undoubtedly light the way toward a more unified future.

"It was so powerful," Alexander says about the event. "It brought me to tears because I never expected to hear anyone apologize, to say they are sorry to me for their acts of slavery."

"I look at that as a wonderful first step in terms of a healing process," he adds.

"When you really look at the whole event," he continues "and especially even the messages after that, everything was about, 'Let's get through this healing process together.'"

Now, Alexander is looking to the future and hopeful that his son, Jesse, will grow up in a different world.

Unlocking the richness of his past has changed Alexander's approach to fatherhood for the better. Plus, with Georgetown setting a new tone for the future, he is less worried about the challenges Jesse might face.

"My son is really going to have a great sense of pride to know that he came from strong people," Alexander says. "All we can wish is that he will do better in America. And that's what we wish for Jesse, is to have that better opportunity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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