“They wouldn’t allow us to use Daddy’s last name.”
As a kid growing up in Algiers, a neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana,Michael N. Hendersonwas curious about his family—how he was related to each of his extended family members and why they were considered Creole. This innocent childhood curiosity led him to inquire about the spelling of his maternal grandmother’s maiden name: Mathieu. When told by his mother that “the family was French Creole and that’s just the way they spelled it,” he was unsatisfied and continued asking questions of his elders.
Years later, as a young lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Henderson interviewed a distant cousin—the family historian—who told him of the haunting tale of an ancestor who lamented for years, “They wouldn’t allow us to use Daddy’s last name.” That family lore spurred him on a 2-decades-long journey to discover “Daddy’s last name” and why the family was prevented from bearing it.
Throughout his journey, Henderson visited archival depositories across the United States, met noted history and genealogical scholars and researchers, attended conferences, and traveled to Marseille, France, where he met with an unlikelyFrench cousin. With each bit of information uncovered, Henderson desired to connect with a more experienced genealogist to assist and guide him to the answers he sought. He uncovered one document after another, most written in French or Spanish, that revealed an engaging tale of love and freedom in the midst of Louisiana’s involvement in the American Revolution. As the story of a free woman of color and her French consort unfolded, Henderson sought a viable source to tell the story of his ancestors on a broader scale. Little did he know that he would eventually become both the historian and the storyteller he sought.
In Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation, Lieutenant Commander Michael Nolden Henderson, U.S. Navy retired, captures the attention of genealogists, historians, and others interested in the complex social structure that developed during the French and Spanish colonial periods in Louisiana. He explores the forbidden relationships that spawned the unique heritage of Creoles of color. Referencing documents from as far back as the 1770s, Henderson uses his own experiences as a family history researcher and the insight of noted scholars to reveal the methods, standards, and techniques he used to prove his ancestry.
Part of the story of his ancestors was captured in a 2010 segment of the PBS series, “History Detectives” titled “The Galvez Papers,” in which Henderson is featured. Additionally, his efforts led to his becoming the first African American in Georgia to be inducted into the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution in 2010. He has served as vice president and president of his chapter, and, as of this writing, he remains Georgia’s only African American member. Early Reviews
Reviews of GOT PROOF!
"One man's fascinating story of his search for his Afro-Creole ancestor Agnes and her French consort led him and all of us to better understand what makes America great."
~Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Professor of History Michigan State University, author of
Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole
Culture in the Eighteenth Century
"Through a rich story and insightful genealogical investigation, GOT PROOF! explores the unique history of New Orleans and reveals its importance to America. Michael Henderson's brilliant research has not only brought reconciliation and acceptance for his family, but has cleared a path for others to follow."
~Keith Weldon Medley, author of We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson
"Michael Henderson is one of the most authentic family historians I have met. His research and findings revealed in his book Got Proof! are impeccable. Not only did he do the work but was generous enough to write it up and share it in this how-to gem of a book."
~Mary Gehman, Margaret Media, Inc. publisher, author ofThe Free People of Color of New Orleans
"Got my copy of Got Proof! this afternoon. Thanks for signing it! I cherish it, and I enjoy what I've already read. It's inspiring in more ways than one, especially now that I find myself just beginning to comprehend the overlapping challenges associated with family research and genealogy. I'm connected in several ways to the book, and I love when that happens. Once again, please know how delighted I am to be reading my own signed copy of Got Proof!"