My African Curls, Scottish White Skin

William (Bill) Roderick Wilson,
United Kingdom

Where did I get my curls ?
Growing up in Scotland in the 1950’s I was one of 5 kids in a happy rural home in Perthshire. My father was Dr William Wilson, a hospital Consultant in Perth, my mother a nurse. His father John had been a Minister in the Church of Scotland, a complete shift from what was socially expected as all previous generations had been coal miners. This was only possible because his mother, the formidable Euphemia McCulloch, determined that none of her 7 sons would go down the pits. She put them all through university with her sewing machine. My grandfather said he never went to sleep other than to the sound of his mother’s sewing machine.

We would sometimes speculate where the curls that were scattered through our family might have come from. My father’s curls were even tighter than mine. At school I was called Willy the Wog which embarrassed me as I didn’t know what a Wog was.

I had no interest in my family history, and it was only when my cousin (another John) began researching it that he came up with the fact that one ancestor, James Wilson had emigrated to the US in 1766, fought against the British in the War of Independence and signed the Declaration of Independence, becoming one of the founding fathers of the US.
John’s research also gave him an interesting idea. He was able to trace the mining Wilson’s all the way back to 1489 (several called William) because until 1833 miners in Scotland were the property of the mine owners. That made them valuable serfs or slaves, so good records were kept. If a mine owner did not own enough miners he would sometimes import slaves from Africa – so John asked ‘might this have been where our family curls came from?’

I took a DNA test and was astonished and delighted to find that my ethnicity estimate included 3.4% African (2.4% North Africa and 1.1% Nigerian). Both these are slave areas and this would be consistent with ancestors being brought across in the early 1700s.

Suddenly as a proud Scot I have even more to be proud of and if I am honest I am still trying to get my head around all that it means. However, I am glad to have the chance to give my story to The Race Card Project.
Bill Wilson June 2021
Perth, Scotland

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