Letter to Serafina

Dear Serafina,

When I found out that your picture, this picture, existed, I felt several emotions raging through my body.  Surprise, because who would have known that after all this digging around for clues, that there still would be actual imagery of you. Excitement, because I would finally be able to attach a face to all those clinical historical records and dates which I molded together to attempt to give life to my version of your story. And I also felt an immense sense of urgency and panic. After all, your picture was 7811 km away, and in the hands of your almost 100 year old grandson, who wasn’t technologically savvy. I needed to see you! But how was I going to?!

Luckily, there were only a couple of days between finding out your picture existed and actually getting the chance to see you. I was sitting at work, when I heard that familiar  ping coming from my phone. Upon opening Whatsapp, I saw that I had received a picture named ‘Oma’, and I could feel my heart skipping a beat. I immediately opened up the picture. I couldn’t believe it. There you were… There you were, Serafina.

Serafina, ©anaelrich


I remember being afraid when I first saw you. I was staring at my trotro, and for some reason this tangible glimpse of my generational past scared me. I still don’t know why. Luckily that feeling lasted only about a split-second. My second thought was: ‘Wow, what a beautiful woman’. You have an air of nobility while sitting there wearing your angisa crown and koto, with that look of slight amusement on your face. Initially you looked grand as in physically really tall, but when I now look at the hard-copy of the picture, it seems like you were short. That would not be surprising considering the people in that branch of my family tree are relatively short. I am also not blessed in the height department, and am even shorter than both my parents.

After that I thought that my grandmother looked like you. I haven’t seen a picture yet from her mother and father, and maybe I’m seeing things I only want to see, but I do believe she looks like you.

Another detail I noticed upon receiving the hard-copy were your hands peeking out from underneath your shawl. Hands that were forced to cut sugar cane. Hands that had rocked children to sleep, and also hands that had to put at least one child into the grave. Hands that were beaten and mangled. Hands that had eventually calloused and hardened to be able to keep toiling during the atrocities of slavery. Hands that ultimately had contributed to my existence in this world.

You were twenty three when you were officially set free, already a young mother of one child. Only one child at that point, which is not surprising considering you were a field maid on a sugar plantation, and birthrates on sugar plantations were low. Historians have speculated that this was because of the weight of sugar cane. The women handling and carrying this heavy load day in and day out would often miscarry due to this sweet burden. It would take you working on coffee and cacao plantations ten years later to give birth to other children, one of them being my great grandfather.

Your mother died when you were just eight years old. Even-though you two didn’t get a lot of time together, it does give me comfort knowing that you probably did grow up knowing your mother, considering you were born after the law forbidding children to be sold separately from their mother was established. I found out that her name was Toetoeba, the same name as the first witch of Salem. Some speculate that Toetoeba or Tituba is of  Yoruba origin, some say that the witch of Salem was Native American. Based on your looks I am going to assume that this Toetoeba was of African origin. There’s also a possibility that she was actually born in Africa, considering that her mother, your grandmother, is listed in the historical records as unknown.

I am also going to assume that your mother’s name was given to her by her people, her village, unlike yours which was probably given to you without her input or the input of your people. Both the name you received as an enslaved woman and the name received upon baptizing with baptizing being a mandatory prerequisite for abolition, refer to strength. In Christianity the Seraphim are after all one of God most powerful angels. When I first saw your name, I remember really liking it. It reminded me of one of my favorite musicals, and it’s a very contemporary name. It was and still is one of the favorite names I have come across during this historical search.

I will remember you as a Seraphim, Serafina. Because you would have needed to be strong of both mind and body, to be able to survive the atrocities that I just briefly highlighted in this post. Since I plan on getting one hundred and fifteen years old, I won’t say that I can’t wait to meet you. I will HAVE to wait to meet you…:-). But for now, I will have to do with your picture. And that is a great consolation prize.


Your great great granddaughter

For more on my genealogy series, see:

Letter to Sophie

Letter to Nelly

Letter to Edmund



6 thoughts on “Letter to Serafina

    1. My paternal great- grandmother ( Sophie’s mother, see Letter to Sophie) was mentally ill and institutionalized practically her whole life. In my opinion there was always this mystery surrounding her, and that made me curious. Just curious to know who these people were that literally made me who I am DNA- wise, but also figuratively, because their experiences fortunately and unfortunately had an effect on their descendants. Their stories make me understand the present better. And in turn, I want to document it for future generations so that they can get a better understanding of themselves.


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