None of our relatives are stereotypes. I know that!
But do I, really? My cousins always surprise me with their distinct opinions. “The family” are not all of one mind.
This last week I’ve been calling my relatives, one by one, to solicit their views about my research. The thing is, I’ve discovered some biracial children of our white slaveholder ancestors in South Carolina. I haven’t traced these biracial lines to the present—not yet.
So here is what I’ve asked my relatives:
I’ve found some evidence of biracial descendants in our family, dating from the days of slavery. Are you interested in exploring these connections with me? If I can find some living descendants, should we contact them and offer to meet them, and shake hands with them?
Why am I questioning my relatives this way? My last blog, “Loyalties and Genealogies,” explores my reasons. Since then, I’ve also read Mike Maglio’s good advice in his column “Genealogy as a Minefield” for the May 22nd issue of The In-Depth Genealogist.
He says, “It is important to understand the emotional impact that uncovered family secrets can have. A careful conversation can help map where the trip wires are in your family history minefield.”
If my relatives were stereotypes—Southern stereotypes—I would expect all their answers to be something like this:
Oh, dear! What a scandal! Stop that, Mariann! Don’t do any more research in that direction! Let bygones be bygones!
But they didn’t say that. Not one of them said anything like that. Here’s what they did say:
Relative #1: Well, I’m not at all surprised. That happened to a lot of people during those times. I wonder if they have some of our traits? Well, I guess I’d want to see how they turned out before deciding whether to shake their hand.
Relative #2: Yes, I’m interested to see what you’ve learned. I’ve heard that there are some families in XXX who might be related to us. I’m interested in knowing what the facts are, if you have some facts. It would be good to know some facts as opposed to the rumors that we have been hearing.
Relative #3: I don’t know quite how I feel. I’d have to think about it.
Relative #4: Well, I’m not surprised, and I’m not offended. It offends me that people would want it hidden. Bring on the information. It’s lovely information to have. I don’t see that it’s going to hurt anybody. A reality is a reality. What’s the harm in knowing? It would be interesting to know how their lives [of the biracial relatives] have been, to know them and know who they are.
Relative #5: The line of inheritance is interesting whichever way it goes. It is what it is. It would be ridiculous to ignore it. I am for knowledge and not for no-knowledge. There are no reasons to not know. None of it disturbs or upsets or bothers me.
So. I’m taking these responses at face value. Maybe there are land mines that I’m not yet detecting. We haven’t had a group discussion—maybe we will have, during this summer’s first-cousin reunion.
Meanwhile, my search continues. I’m looking for biracial relatives, and I’m edging quietly toward the present. Soon I may have a few questions for some African-American churches in the area where my family lived.
How should I phrase these questions? I’m working on that. Carefully.
I’d love for people to comment! How do you handle the minefields in your family history? Have you been able to settle differences and reach harmony?