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A search for an American family

Newhall resident finds surprises in his family tree

Posted: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2012 7:34 p.m.

The large photo at left is Goodwyn's grandfather, Walter R. Robinson was selected for the cover of his book, "Kinfolk: The True Story of an American Family."

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Michael H. Goodwyn, of Newhall, grew up as an “only child” in the small town of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Located between Detroit and Chicago, Goodwyn describes growing up in Kalamazoo as reminding him of the television show “Leave it to Beaver.”

“It was a really neat place. Everybody knew everybody and everybody mostly got along,” he said “It was a pleasant, laid back place and I was glad that I grew up there, but I’m also glad that I left.”

Goodwyn, author of “Kinfolk: The True Story of an American Family,” said his experience as one of the few African-Americans in Kalamazoo led to his interest in family history.

“When I was living in Kalamazoo there weren’t a lot of African-Americans,” he said. “One of the things that really bothered me as a kid was that I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me.”

After Goodwyn married his wife of 35 years, Sheri, the couple, both teachers, found they could live in nearly any part of the United States.

“Whenever we got bored we would find another part of the country that we wanted to work and so we would apply for teaching jobs,” he said.

The couple has lived in Houston, Texas; Detroit, Mich.; Baltimore, Md. and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. before relocating to the Santa Clarita Valley in 2003.

Goodwyn teaches communications, mostly public speaking, at College of the Canyons, Los Angles Mission College, Los Angeles Valley College and Rio Hondo College in Whittier.

He began his search for his family tree in 2008.

Goodwyn said that unlike many African-Americans looking for their history he was lucky, his grandmother had given him copies of pages from a family Bible that spanned generations.

“When I was growing up, if you were African-American, it was very difficult to trace your family,” he said. “You go a couple of generations back and it takes you to slavery. Slaves were listed as property, there was no name or parental background.”

Goodwyn also had the stories his mother had told around the family dinner table of a distant relative who had owned a bank, and another who was a sailor.

After the deaths of his mother and father Goodwyn described himself as feeling “very alone.”

Family photos and memorabilia had been given away, thrown away or dispersed.

“All those things drove me to find out who I am and where I came from,” he said.

Goodwyn said he joined Ancestry.com and he was able to authentic the names from his family Bible.

His search led him to additional relatives, as well as contact with a researcher from the Nabb Research Center in Salisbury, Md.

“He was doing an exhibit and looking for information on my great-great-great grandfather, who was furthest back on that list of names from my grandmother,” Goodwyn said.
“I knew nothing about him.”

Goodwyn learned his great-great-great grandfather, Levin Huston, a freed slave, and others helped found and build one of Maryland’s first African-American churches. The group also founded the first school for
African-Americans in Maryland.

He also learned that Levin Huston’s son, Solomon T. Houston, also a former slave, became a wealthy Maryland land owner and founder of one of the nation’s first African-American banks.

Goodwyn was able to visit his great-great-great grandfather’s church, which is now a cultural center, in Salisbury, Md.

“What was so meaningful for me was that I was also able to tour the home where Levin Huston was a slave until he was 35,” Goodwyn said. “When the tour guide found out my history she took me upstairs to an area not on the tour where the slaves were kept. I was able to see where  (Huston) lived.”

The story of the relative who was a sailor and traveled to China was also confirmed through the Nabb Center.

Goodwyn said he is proud of his family’s story.

“But more than a family’s story, more than the story of our country from a different perspective, ‘Kinfolk’ is a book about the meaning of family. It’s also a book about strength. In one way or another, your true family gives you strength,” he said. “As proud as I am of my family’s accomplishments, I’m much more proud of their strength.”

“Kinfolk: The True Story of an American Family” is available as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo and Copia e-readers for $9.99 from Amazon.com. A free e-reader is available from Amazon.com so the book can be read on computers and tablets.

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