Did I Have a Scottish Ancestor in Africa?

Tracing Your Roots: A reader with Sierra Leonean roots seeks the truth in family legend.

A map of Sierra Leone (Thinkstock)

On a Mission

Having a time frame for when Pericles Macauley might have been alive will help you further pinpoint which records are most relevant for your genealogy search. If your older ancestors can’t say, at least knowing when your grandfather — his son — was alive can help narrow down when Pericles might have been alive.

You say a possible reason Pericles Macauley went to Sierra Leone was to conduct missionary work, but on what is this assumption based? Were any of your other ancestors attached to missions? What did his son — your grandfather — do? Did he in any way work with missionaries or the colonial government? Knowing this information can help you track down Pericles Macauley and his reason for being in Sierra Leone.

If all of this turns up more evidence that your great-grandfather was, indeed, a half-Scottish missionary, try contacting the National Library of Scotland’s Manuscript Division, which has a collection of documents pertaining to the Scottish Missionary Society. This organization, formerly known as the Scottish Society and the Edinburgh Missionary Society, sent missionaries to a number of areas, including West Africa. Another source, recommended by Mouser, is the Church Missionary Society‘s “Register of Missionaries,” which covers everyone between 1804 and 1904, and might list Pericles Macauley by name.

A Powerful Connection?

In addition to researching your Macauley line, look into the family of Zachary Macaulay (note the spelling variation), born in Scotland May 2, 1768. He served as governor of Sierra Leone and was an antislavery activist. Although Zachary Macaulay did not have a child named Pericles, given his ties to Scotland and Sierra Leone, it is possible that a family connection exists. Zachary Macaulay is the subject of a number of books, including Life and Letters of Zachary Macaulay, published in 1900, and Letters of Hannah More to Zachary Macaulay, Esq. Containing Notices of Lord Macaulay’s Youth, published in 1860. Another book suggestion is Charles Booth’s Zachary Macaulay, His Part in the Movement for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and of Slavery: An Appreciation, published in 1934, which is available at a number of libraries.

Another possible source: the Charles Booth Collection, held by the Archives division of the London School of Economics and Political Science Library (LSE Archives) and the Senate House Library. This collection contains correspondence written by the families of Zachary Macaulay and Charles Booth, who married into the Macaulay family in 1871. There are 80 letters written by Zachary Macaulay in this collection, most of them addressed to his nephew, Kenneth Macaulay. For more information on these documents, contact the LSE Archives via email at Document@lse.ac.uk.

Finally, there are a number of genealogical email lists related to particular surnames and geographical areas. One such mailing list is available through Rootsweb for those researching the Sierra Leone area. You can sign up to receive emails from this group, and also search the archived messages for possible inquiries related to the Macauley family.

Good luck!

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

This answer was provided in consultation with Eileen Pironti, a researcher from New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.