Tom was in the Navy in the 1970s when he first got an inkling of the African origins. At a conference of naval attaches in San Diego, a "giant black man" with a Cameroonian patch on his uniform noticed Tom's name tag.
"A lot of people?" Tom asked.
"Many, many people."
By the 1990s, Tom was producing a family genealogy newsletter. He had traced his ancestry to Edward and come to accept him, with some pride, as his forebear.
"Hey, I descended from an African prince," he said.
But he wouldn't mention him in the newsletter. Tom didn't want to upset his subscribers, many of them older and not about to change their beliefs.
One descendant who knew about Edward had begged Tom not to write about him. "He had two daughters who were of marrying age, and he didn't want them embarrassed," Tom said. "It made it very personal for me to have a father ask that."
I understood, but I didn't agree about keeping quiet.
The charade had gone on for 300 years. In the past, it may have been a measure of self-preservation. What were we suppressing the truth for now? To protect feelings that should have been obsolete long ago?
With DNA technology and websites like ancestry.com, people are delving into their roots like never before, and both white and black often find a more complex racial history than they'd imagined.
But in our case, denial allows fairy tales to flourish.
Online Mozingo chat groups are filled with comments like this: "My carpet cleaner told me the name was Italian. He said he had lived in Northern Italy and 'Mozingo' was a very common name."
Every Mozingo family in America seems to have nurtured a different source for the name: Italian, Portuguese, French Huguenot, Basque, Spanish, Cajun, Black Irish, Native American, English.
Were any true? The Italian white pages online showed "nessun resulto" — no result — for Mozingo or anything like it. An Italian linguist at UCLA and a Italian-language professor at Yale whom I consulted said they'd never heard the name, as did a Portuguese professor at Brown and an expert on French Huguenots at the Universite de Toulouse, France.
The name could be found in one place outside of America: west central Africa. There is a town called Mazingo in Gabon. And Zaire's basketball coach in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta was Monga Maluku Mozingo. When I called him in Kinshasa, he said there were many Mozingos in his father's hometown on the Congo River.
There was also a mysterious "Col. Robert Mozingo" who showed up on a list of deaths in Newtown, Conn., in 1801. Though black decedents on the list were noted as "Negro," the colonel was called "an African."
This issue should have been settled years ago with the Mozingo DNA project. But unlike many family DNA projects, its founders, including Tom, promised total confidentiality and have guarded the results.
Word of central Africa has trickled out in Web forums, but never with the imprimatur to close the case.