Rosemary Postey was always curious about her family’s roots.
Several of her relatives have black curly hair and others had dark skin. She suspected Indigenous heritage, until one day her uncle revealed a photograph of her great-grandmother.
It confirmed her Black ancestry — and piqued her interest to search for more information.
On a quest to learn more about her Black heritage, the Manitoba woman was surprised to find photographs of her Black ancestors in a digital archive collection hosted by the Brock University Library.
The Rick Bell Family Fonds features more than 300 photos and various papers spanning more than a century that document the Bell and Sloman families, who descended from former slaves in the American south and later laid roots in Niagara.
“You can’t imagine my joy when I found these pictures,” said Postey, whose grandfather is Earl Sloman. “My family never spoke about our family roots.”
The collection includes photos of her grandfather’s siblings, as well as several pictures of a relative named Lizzie Robinson (née Sloman) with her family.
To Postey’s knowledge, the Slomans in her family emigrated to Clinton, Ont., directly from England 153 years ago and were not of Black heritage. Turns out, some of the children and grandchildren of the original Sloman immigrants married Black partners.
“My grandfather was quite dark skinned,” she said. “He married my grandma whose parents had emigrated from Scotland. There were eight children in my mom’s family and there was such a distinct difference in some of the children’s physical appearances.”
Postey stumbled upon the Rick Bell Family Fonds in her search to learn more about her great-grandmother Mary Ester Day (née Sloman) — her father’s mother and the woman in the photograph her uncle gave her. She was curious if the Day family had come from the United States through the Underground Railroad.
Although she did not find any photos or information about her great-grandmother, she said seeing the Rick Bell collection confirmed there were other Black links in her family tree.
She also learned that she is distantly related to Rick Bell, the person who donated the collection of family photographs and papers to Brock in 2010.
David Sharron, Head of the Brock University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, connected Postey to Bell, who gave her the name of another distant relative who might have more information about her family.
“This is why archives exist,” said Sharron. “Records like these can connect past generations to those in the present and the future. There is always something to discover. We are thrilled that Rosemary was able to find these Niagara roots in the Brock University Archives. The Rick Bell Family Fonds is quite special.”
Postey plans to continue her quest to find answers about her great-grandmother Mary Ester Day (née Sloman). In the meantime, she is compiling photographs and documents she has found so far in her extensive research, which included a cross-Canada visit this past summer from her home in Manitoba to Ontario to visit the London Public Library, the Clinton Branch of the Huron County Library and the Huron County Archives in Goderich.
“I am so proud of all my ancestors and proud of my Black heritage,” she said. “My search has been a labour of love and I plan to continue digging deeper to find out more about them.”
To learn more about the Rick Bell Family Fonds and an online exhibit featuring pieces from the collection, read about it this Brock News article from 2021.