My Krio father's quest to find his father, family unlocks his ancestry from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, to Brazil
Thirty years after he had made his first visit, Victor boarded a flight to Lagos to meet his family. Last time he was in Nigeria was to meet his father, Henry, a medical doctor in Surelere.
But his father was dead now, gone to join the ancestors in Abeokuta.
It was a Dana Airways flight, forty-five minutes from Accra to Lagos. Unlike the last time when he was alone, this time Victor was traveling with his daughter. She was the one who had joined the J H Doherty Descendants Facebook group and posted his story. She was the one who had pieced together what Victor could remember about where he had come from.
He was born in Warri in the Niger Delta. His mother was 18 when she met his father, and they got pregnant but they never married. She had also been born in the Delta. Her mother was Itskerri but her father a Sierra Leonean Doctor on a medical mission there was of Krio stalk. When he left Nigeria at the end of his service, he took his three children; and his first grandson Victor then just a toddler back to Sierra Leone. Dr. Faulkner would die and leave his children and grandson soon after returning home to Hamilton Village, on the Freetown Peninsular. It was around this time the Yoruba name that Victor’s father Henry had given him was dropped, replaced with Emmanuel. Victor no longer remembers it. His mother fondly called him “Manuel,” ‘Man’ for short. Victor lived in Sierra Leone for the first half of his life knowing of his father only as a vague notion in Nigeria. No attempts were made to contact him. His mother Sabina did not speak of him. Victor did not ask questions.
In 1978, Victor was attending a conference in former Czechoslovakia. Now a tall, heavily bearded man in his 30s, he was a fervent supporter and member of the communist party in Sierra Leone, the All People’s Congress. He was a delegate representing the party. While at the conference a fellow representative from Nigeria pulled him aside.
“Which Doherty are you? I know the Dohertys very well.”
Victor explained his story. Yes, he was connected to some Doherty in Lagos, but he didn’t know who.
“I think I know your father, if not your father then your uncle.”
A letter was dispatched from the conference addressed to Dr. Akanni Doherty. Victor’s forwarding address in Hamilton was included for future correspondence. He left the meeting and returned to Freetown without much expectation or hope. In those days letters took months to reach their destination, but the response did come.
One day Victor got a letter. The letter was from Akanni who had received the letter from Czechoslovakia. He said that Victor was his brother Henry’s son. He asked for more details from Victor and invited him to visit Lagos.
Victor boarded a flight to Lagos to meet his father and Uncle. Dr. Henry picked up his second born who he had not seen since he was a baby in a grand old white Mercedes. The impact of that car, the ride with his father, never left Victor. Years later when he had enough money to purchase a luxury car, he too opted for a large white Mercedes. When he bought it home to the townhouse in Prince George’s County in Maryland, his children gawked at it. He beamed with pride.
“Aie Daddy no to Subaru again? Now na Mercedes?” His daughter asked.
“Vickie! Your father is not a poor man!”
He would later tell her of his own father’s Mercedes, his doctor’s office and of his grandfather JH Doherty’s vast wealth at the turn of the 20th Century.
“Vickie my grandfather was a rich man. He had 44 children, and all of them went to University. Vickie,, my father, was a doctor. Vickie my uncle Akanni was a doctor and a politician, an important member of the Action Group. He was a great supporter of Awolowo”.
These stories would come out ever so often as he drove his daughter to school in the morning. It was those stories that piqued her interest and created a longing for the Doherty family in Nigeria.
Every couple of years she would search online trying to find Doherty in Nigeria. Josiah Henryson “The Prince Merchant of Alakoro” Doherty left behind a small tribe of his own. He married multiple wives and had 44 children. JH’s father “Baba Oko” was from Ilaro. He was captured and sold into slavery then freed in Sierra Leone as a recaptive before finding his way back home to Nigeria. The general information about JH was online but finding his grandchildren who were Victor’s siblings would be difficult.
In 2014 a Google search popped up a Facebook group for the Dohertys. She let her dad know she had found and joined the group. One day towards the end of the year her father called her from Freetown.
“Vickie I thought you were going to find my family,” he said.
She offered to post his story in the group to see if anyone would recognize the narrative. Dr. Henry must have other children andor nieces and nephews who might be in the group.
She posted two pictures in the JH Doherty Descendants Group; one of her father Victor, another of him and her four older brothers.
A day later Victor sent a Whatsapp message.
”Nobody noh ansa yate?”
It was less than a day since she posted, but she knew her father and his patience deficiency syndrome. Everything he wants, when he wants it, it must be done now, now.
A handful of comments were made under the posts in the group on the first day but nothing with any specific lead. It wasn't until the next week that someone would respond and unlock the family in Nigeria that both Victor and his daughter sought.
”Hi. You say your father’s father was Henry? He may be my half brother.”
Vickie wrote back instantly. She searched his photos on Facebook to see if this man bore any resemblance to her father. He didn't. Where her father was tall and dark skinned, the man was average height and appeared to be mixed race.
They exchanged correspondence. The man had been living in London for almost three decades. He said he was sure Victor was his brother, but he needed to send the news to his elder brother in Lagos. The announcement was sent, and soon word came back. Vickie and Victor had found their branch of the Doherty family in Lagos.
The keeper of Grandpa Henry’s estate and head of the family was a lawyer, Adewale Doherty. He lived with his wife in Lekki. Victor’s brother in London also was Wale. And like that Victor got two brothers named Wale.
Numbers were exchanged. Victor called his brother Wale in London and his brother Wale in Lagos. He flew to London to meet Wale (who also goes by Ed). They had lunch and talked for hours. The posed for a photo to capture the moment.
In the months that would follow the family decided it would host Victor and his daughter if they wanted to visit Lagos.
They boarded a Dana Airways flight to Lagos. A cousin’s daughter was getting married, and all the Dohertys were welcome.
”Daddy are you excited to go to Lagos? How are you feeling?” Vickie asked expecting a movie script of a response.
”Yes. I'm good, ” was all Victor had to say as they collected their bags from Murtala Muhammed Airport.
In the week he would spend in Lagos, Victor would meet six of his surviving siblings. He would learn that he was not, in fact, the oldest but the second born. He and his brother Wale spoke late into the night about their grandfather, father, and their family. They talked about politics and Nigeria’s history, and their voices bellowed throughout the house.
When it was time to go to the family wedding, three cars could have taken them, but it was Uncle Wale’s own Mercedes that would do the job. Victor talked about his own Mercedes, an ML, and he marveled at his brother’s G-Wagon. He was obviously proud that not only was his brother a wealthy man, but they also shared their father’s taste in cars.
He left Nigeria with a heart full of joy, and a more profound sense of family and belonging than ever before. Victor had grown up without his father for all of his life, this trip had healed an empty space as much as could be done given the circumstances.
When the family celebrated JH Doherty’s 90th Anniversary of his death, he received his own asoebi from Lagos. In the programme printed for the church celebration, Victor learned something new about himself. His paternal grandmother was German Dos Reis from Bahia in Brazil who had sailed to Nigeria with her own father a captain on a merchant ship.