Chesley McNeil Retraces Roots to South Carolina

5:13 PM, Feb 28, 2011   |    comments
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11Alive Meteorologist Chesley McNeil

For 11Alive meteorologist Chesley McNeil, it was a journey that started with a wisecrack.

"I'm hoping that we are the descendants of great kings and queens -- and that I'm owed some money or something," McNeil said regarding the chance to look at his family's history.

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He is a husband and father of three, with a Masters degree in geo-sciences and currently pursuing a Ph.D. He has spent his life mostly in the Northeast, but he has a history down South; as early as 11 years old, he spent his summers picking tobacco in South Carolina for work.

The journey of his ancestry would lead back there again.

The first stop? A conference room in Atlanta, to meet with genealogist Anastasia Harmon of She pointed out this:

"Simon McNeil and Mary Ellen Foxworth, your great-great-grandparents ..."

"Foxworth," mused Chesley. "Sounds expensive ..."

The name came from the white family who owned Chesley's ancestors at the end of slavery.

"I'm shocked and amazed," Chesley said, "that we're finding records this far back. Actually knowing something about them is amazing to me."

And it only got more amazing when Chesley learned more about his *first* name.

"Everyone says, 'Where does that name come from?'" he said. "I'd say, 'My father's name was Chesley.'"

It turns out that name may very well come from the same white family that owned his ancestors in South Carolina.

"When you look on [this census form]," instructed Anastasia, "you might come across a name that is familiar to you."

And he did see the name -- Chesley Foxworth, a white man in the 1850's whose family owned the soon-to-be-McNeils.

On top of that, they also discovered another Chesley Foxworth living in that same area in the 1930's.

It was a revelation that stunned Chesley McNeil.

"I think that he must have had some major influence on my family for them to remember that name and name their children after him," Chesley said. "To find out that there was a potential slave owner or a member of a family with the same name Chesley is ... 'wow' ..."

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