USO employee Dencil Harrison

USO employee Dencil Harrison is in the middle of a genealogy search hoping to document his family’s lineage back to Africa.

Honor Guard USO Lounge supervisor Dencil Harrison is Family-driven at home in Waldorf, Maryland, and with his professional Family on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. A retired Army artilleryman, Harrison is dedicated to making over 200 service members lounge visitors comfortable every day, but he is also dedicated to a personal quest — a historical quest involving genealogical detective work.

Harrison has significant links to ancestors involved in colonial and African-American history.

Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, Harrison and his sister’s genealogical research have tracked their family tree all the way back to Ghana. They are still working on cementing all the details into a historical fit, but Harrison is confident he has authentication of his Family heritage back to the year 1840.

Main clues to his Family’s past can be found in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

“Down in Chesapeake, Virginia, we have this place called Cuffeytown,” Harrison explained. “This is where a lot of my ancestors are from. In Cuffeytown, there is a cemetery where 13 Buffalo Soldiers are buried. I know for certain 10 of the 13 buried there are related to me.”

Buffalo Soldiers and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall are intertwined in military history. Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th U.S. Cavalry arrived on Fort Myer May 25, 1891, and Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry served at Fort Myer until 1949.

Another relative buried at the Cuffeytown historical cemetery is Lemuel Cuffey. Lemuel was a corporal in 10th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. He lived from 1840 to 1882.

“He was part of H Company during the Civil War,” Harrison said. “I started doing my research in 2002. The research is tiresome, but it is necessary. It’s fun, but sometimes you run into a brick wall.”

Currently, Harrison plans to research whether any of his descendants were stationed at Fort Myer.

“I’m still working on my research (here at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall),” said Harrison, who started work on JBM-HH in May.

He was emotionally moved when his descendant, Cuffeytown founder and freedman Paul Cuffee (born in 1759), was included in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. With information still sporadic before 1840, descendants’ bits and pieces are slowly being worked into documented fact.

“My goal is to find the entrance point of my ancestors into America,” Harrison said. “I want to know about when they first got here.”

Individuals wanting to volunteer as a USO Honor Guard volunteer or have information on or are interested in Harrison’s ancestral search, may contact the lounge at (703) 696-2628.

Pentagram Staff Writer Jim Dresbach can be reached at jdresbach@dcmilitary.com.