#BravoGenealogy Blog Series: Robyn Dixon
Updated: Aug 22, 2018
If you follow me on social media (and you should! Check out my accounts at the bottom of this post), I appreciate feedback on what I’ve found, but also who my readers would love for me to research for #BravoGenealogy. I received several requests, including that I should research one of the “green-eyed bandits” from the Real Housewives of Potomac. So, after spending last week in the OC, we’re headed back east to learn more about Robyn Dixon’s family history.
What We Know
Finding background information on Robyn certainly put my sleuthing skills to the test. Born on March 31, 1979, Robyn Bragg is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. Although only her mother's name was readily available, I found that her father was a dentist, which was the lead I needed to learn she is the daughter of M. Guy and Gladys (Wade) Bragg. With her ex-husband/boyfriend/roommate/co-parent Juan Dixon, she has two sons, Corey and Carter.
She had ancestors in North Carolina for almost 200 years.
Although I found branches of Robyn’s family tree living in Texas, Georgia, and other southern states, all the maternal ancestors I was able to trace were based in North Carolina. More specifically, most were centered around Halifax County in the town of Enfield.
A major obstacle that can occur in African American genealogy is linked with American history. Slaves weren’t listed in the U.S. census until 1870, after the Civil War. Before that, they may appear in census data, not by name, but according to how many a slaveowner possessed based on age and sex in the 1850 and 1860 federal census slave schedules and by tally in the decades prior. However, free African Americans were identified in the 1850 and 1860 “Free Schedules.” Unfortunately, I was not able to find census records prior to 1870 for Robyn's biological family. However, I did find a marriage record for her likely 3rd great-grandparents, meaning that she had ancestors who were free prior to the Civil War.
I could not identify any known white ancestor in her tree.
Particularly in Season One, issues of race were brought to the forefront of the show, with Robyn having to explain that even though she had lighter skin, she was not biracial and could not trace back to a white ancestor. Social media has also been very interested in Robyn’s heritage, which was probably a factor in why I was asked to research a “green-eyed bandit” in the first place. Based on my research, I found no clear white ancestor in her tree going back 150-200+ years.
With that said, several of her ancestors, especially on her mother’s side, were labeled in various censuses as “mulatto,” meaning that the census taker either knew or identified them as having some white ancestry.
My theory is that some of these family branches may have been freed prior to the Civil War because they were children of various slave owners (or they were still enslaved children of slave owners as well). Last names in Robyn’s mother’s family, such as Tillery, Lowe, and Smith, were also shared by white people living in Halifax County, North Carolina, around this time, which lends to this possibility. However, more on the ground research and DNA tests would be needed to find these exact ancestors.
There was some major tragedies in her family.
Although many of Robyn's ancestors lived well into old age, I found hardship and tragedy in her family tree. According to the 1910 census, it appears that Robyn's paternal grandfather was living in an orphan's home, working as a farmer, although both parents seem to have still been alive. A great-uncle committed suicide, and 2nd great-uncle, Maryland Hill, was described in a death record as an alcoholic who died from exposure due to "cold and rainy" weather.
Education and entrepreneurship are very important in her family.
Education and business savvy are clearly important in Robyn’s family. She herself attended University of Maryland College Park and received a degree in business marketing, which she has put to good use in her various business ventures. Both her parents have professional degrees, her father a dentist and her mother a business owner and former college professor with an MBA from an Ivy League school. Her paternal grandmother, great-grandmother, and likely great-grandfather were also teachers. This same likely great-grandfather, Guy Richmond Bragg, also owned both a grocery store and printing shop simultaneously. Her likely 2nd great-grandfather, Lucius Lee, also owned his own business as a funeral director in Georgia. Clearly, several of Robyn's ancestors had quite the entrepreneurial spirit.
She has several strong, hardworking women in her family.
Besides her own mother, Robyn has several women in her family whom she can look up to and be proud. Her paternal grandmother, Juliet (Jackson) Bragg established special education departments at schools in Baltimore and was very involved in the community. I was particularly struck by her ancestors that were heads of household with families and working outside the home at the same time. One in particular was Robyn's 2nd great-grandmother, Susan Lowe, who worked on the farm while having at least three children and an aging mother, Robyn's 3rd great-grandmother, Abbie Overstreet. Abbie who also considered the head of the household in both the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Although Susan's husband was listed as "Sam Lowe" on her death record, based on death records of Susan's children, their father was either unknown (according to Robyn's great grandmother Dora's death record) or named Jack Lowe according to Dora's two siblings. When Susan died in 1919, she left everything to her three children in the will, highlighting her strong work ethic to provide for her family's future.
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