Tag: Slavery

A Lucky Glimpse: Family Lines of Slaves

 

Fraser, enslaved families, Boone, Hickman, Atkinson

A few weeks ago, my first cousin and I found an old, weathered journal in her attic. This journal was one among many, in an unexamined box of documents left to her by her mother.

The cover reads, “Negro’s Age’s 1848,” [sic] and underneath, “L. L. Fraser.”  The writing is barely visible in a bright light.

NegrosAges

There are 37 handwritten pages. The title of each page is the first name of the parent—typically an enslaved African-American woman. Underneath is a list of children, by first name and birth date. The dates range from 1804 through 1879.

Several Fraser patriarchs owned slaves in my family. Here is a father-son-grandson line:

  • John Baxter Fraser, 1767-1820  ( my 3 x g grandfather)
  • Ladson Lawrence Fraser Sr., 1804-1889 (2 x g grandfather)
  • Ladson Lawrence Fraser, Jr., 1862-1918 (great-grandfather)

These three men all believed in keeping slave families together—they did not separate them by selling them or willing them to others. Therefore, Ladson Lawrence Fraser Sr. lived with the same enslaved families all his life, in the Sumter district of South Carolina. By scrutinizing this “Negroes’ Ages” journal, we can find tentative generational lines for some of Ladson’s enslaved families.

I’m color-coding in bold for clarity. Parent is green. Children are red. Grandchildren are blue.

Nanny’s Descendants:

One enslaved woman, Nanny, was given to Ladson Lawrence in his father’s 1820 will. See November 2012 post. Ladson received six slaves: “Dick, & his wife Kate, Nanny & her three children vix. Heram, Rufus, and Susanna.

Here is a page from the “Negroes’ Ages” journal:

Fraser, enslaved families, POCGenealogy, Washington, Lynch, Postel

  •  Nanny’s Children  No. 14th
  • 1 Herram was born [Deceased 1843] May 5th 1813
  • 1 Rufus was born Oct. 9th 1816
  • 2 Sue was born March 18th 1818
  • 3 Cyrus was born May 15th 1820
  • 4 Brister  was born June 7th 1824
  • 5 Minirva was born June 30th 1828
  • 6 Isaiah was born Sept. 23 1834
  •  Cyrus died April 13th 1882
  • Isaiah died Aug 27 1889
  • Sue died Feb. 8th 1900 age 82 yr 10 m 8 d.
  • Rufus died Apr. 12 1904 Age 87 yr 6 m

Notice that here are  the birth and death dates for four of Nanny’s children: Rufus, Sue, Cyrus, and Isaiah.

Their death dates are after Emancipation. These people may have stayed with their former owners (Frasers in the Sumter district) under one of those newly established work contracts. I’ve read how oppressive such contracts usually were. I always hope for exceptions—a little light in the deep woods.

Another journal page gives the children of Sue, Nanny’s first daughter:

Fraser, enslaved ancestors, Jones, Paris, Atchison, POC genealogy

Sue’s Children  No. 18

  • 1 [crossed out, perhaps died in infancy]
  • 2 Betsy was born Dec. 26 1848
  • 3 Hiram (?) was born Sep. 1st 1852
  • 4 Minerva was born Aug 1st 1854
  • 5      Nanny died Feb. 58   Jan 23 1857
  • Betsy died Dec 2nd 1884

I believe this Sue is likely Nanny’s daughter because the comparative ages seem right, and there are no others named “Sue” in this journal. We may have three generations here:

  • Nanny
  • Sue b. 1818 d. 1900
  • Betsy b. 1848 d. 1884  (There is no list of Betsy’s children.) 

Nanny’s second daughter, Minirva/Minerva b. 1828 [not the same as Sue’s daughter Minerva] had many children. Here is the  journal page:

Minerva'sChildren

  • Minerva’s Children  No. 13
  • 1 Martha was born Dec 7th 1846
  • 2 Robert was born May 21st 1850
  • 3 Susan was born April 11th 1852
  • 4 Ralph [crossed out] Dead April 1st 1854
  • 5 Winny was born April 26 1856
  • 6 Nanny was born June 10 1858
  • 7 Lizzie was born May 28th 1860
  • 8 Mariah was born Nov. 25 1862
  • 9 Ralph was born Oct 31 1864
  • Willie was born Feby 1870

Again we have two more generations after Minerva’s mother, Nanny.

Minerva and her children probably lived past Emancipation.  The census or the Freedmen’s Bureau may hold clues.

Finally, Sue’s son Hiram b. 1852 may have taken the surname Hickman after Emancipation. Hickman was a popular middle name within the Fraser family. Hiram’s age would fit with these birth dates for his children in the journal:

Hickman, Fraser, enslaved families, slavery, African-American genealogy 

  •  Hiram Hickman’s children
  • Charley – 4 years old Decr 1st 1872
  • Brister – 2 years old March 19th 1873
  • Fanny – 9 years old Feby – 1873

If my guess is correct, then, this journal when seen as a whole includes four generations of at least one family line of slaves. (I’ve coded the great-grandchildren pink.)

  • Nanny
  • Sue and Minerva
  • Hiram and many other grandchildren (above)
  • Charley, Brister and Fanny

Hiram’s  family might be in the 1870 census under that “Hickman” surname, in the Sumter, SC district. This family line might easily yield to more research. With luck.

Any genealogical clues are precious. I’m tagging this blog with surnames that were also used as middle names in the Fraser family, just in case the Fraser slaves adopted these last names when freed:

  • Atchison
  • Atkinson
  • Baxter
  • Boone
  • Hickman
  • Jones
  • Lynch
  • Paris
  • Postel
  • Washington

Maybe there are other slaveholders’ journals out there, waiting to be found—with birth dates, death dates, and relationships that can be inferred.

I’m copying each page of this “Negroes’ Ages” journal with my Flip-Pal before I turn it over to the South Carolina Historical Society for the archive. Maybe these pages can be used to detect more family lines. I’ll put them in a later post.

And I’m fervently hoping there is someone out there in genealogy land who will find this post helpful in their family research.

The Genealogist’s Muse: Asking Why

Story.

That word resounded from RootsTech last week. Genealogists were calling for Stories of our ancestors and families, as they explained that Stories would have more appeal and meaning to everyone than lists of “dry” facts.

Story is a vital concept, even a bit magical. I capitalize the word in order to use it in my own way. In my view, a Story that is meaningful has certain necessary elements.

Everyone would likely agree that a Story must include Who, What, Where, and When. Professional genealogists, who earn our justified praise for mastering and navigating the world of intricate databases, can determine those facts about an ancestor’s life to the extent humanly possible. They deserve our respect and gratitude.

I believe that a Story must also address How and Why. This is where a Story’s meaning and appeal lies.

“How” can mean just a straightforward chronological sequence. We may ask, “Tell me how my ancestor’s life happened, from first to last.” That simple plot is ensured by the meticulous techniques that professional genealogists use to verify dates.

But another meaning of “How” merges with “Why.” We want a Story to help explain the causes and effects operating within our ancestors’ lives, so that we can better understand the causes and effects in our own lives. We all live among big questions:

  • Why and How can historical events profoundly change our life’s course?
  • How and Why are our lives influenced by the lives of friends and family?
  • Why and How do institutions manage our choices? Are we free, or not?
  • How and Why are our emotions and beliefs unique? Or are we all alike?
  • Where do our personalities come from—God, family, local custom, fate, DNA?
  • Why and How do we commit both good and bad acts? Who are we, really?

These questions, and thousands like them, are mysteries. No answer could meet the genealogical proof standard.

Yet we are always looking for a Story that asks these questions for us again and again, to make us think further about life. Musing about these questions . . . that’s part of our humanity.

In a Story, ideas and feelings about How and Why are built into the motivations and conflicts of characters . . . the words of dialogue both said and unsaid . . . the unexpected twists and junctures of plots. That’s how a Story speaks to our inner selves.

Asking Why: This is the fundamental Muse of a Story. The storyteller ventures into some momentous Why questions and invites ideas in response. This pursuit may seem over-the-line to those who distrust subjectivity. But asking Why is human and inevitable.

 

John Leighton Wilson

This is a generic Greek Muse, but she seems to be Erato, the muse of love poetry. Clio is the muse of history, and Calliope is the muse of epic poetry.

 

The much-touted liberal arts— “the arts that liberate us”(Montaigne)—are all about these musings of How and Why. The fields of history, literature, philosophy, and religion are full of people reading texts, asking Why, and exchanging ideas provoked by their reading. Same for the social sciences: psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology—more Why questions, more rich speculation, more threads of reasoning, more concepts. These academics are asking the same questions we’re all asking: How can we understand our lives?

Will Genealogy move toward Stories? Genealogy might choose to become a combination of art (“liberal art”) and science. It would be in good company, for practicing medicine is both an art and a science, or so they say. Medicine deals in human contingencies. It calls for wisdom and judgment as well as facts. Doctors even now ask patients for their “narratives.”

All of us have ideas about human nature. We’ve all lived life and known people. Our intuitions have been educated by our experience. Genealogists are entitled to create Stories and enrich them with ideas by suggesting Why their characters (ancestors) act and choose as they do.

 ~ ~ ~

Here’s an illustration. I’ll combine Why and How with verifiable facts, in a rough sketch—a plan for a Story.

This Story would be about the Reverend John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886). He is one of my relatives-by-marriage, the uncle of the wife of my grand uncle. He spent 18 years of his life as a missionary in West Africa, among the Grebo people of Cape Palmas and then the Mpongwe people at Gaboon.

I would muse about Why he chose this life, and that question would be the undercurrent of this Story. Wilson’s South Carolina neighbors stayed home and work their farms, using slaves. Instead, Wilson became the first Protestant missionary to Africa. Why was Wilson so different?

I’d start this Story with an imagined internal monologue of Wilson’s evening prayers—with my imagination informed by my research. It is October 14th of 1850 in Gaboon, West Africa. Wilson is asking God for strength in his task of converting Mpongwe speech to writing. This takes him long hours with the Mpongwe. He must coax their leaders to agree, letter by letter, as they slowly inscribe Bible passages. His days are filled with strife. It is little better, he thinks, than Cape Palmas in Liberia, a few years back. There both the natives and the freed American Negroes disputed Wilson’s mission plans. They even argued with each other. (1)  How frustrated and stymied a person could feel while spreading the Gospel! He prays for endurance.

In his prayers a memory arrives, through God’s grace. He is a youth again at Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church in South Carolina. Here slaves and whites worshipped together, the slaves in the galleries. This memory steadies him. In this church he received God in sunlight through plain church windows. He realized that every human being deserves freedom. He knew that the South now owed the Gospel to Africa, having taken so many of Africa’s people into bondage. He foresaw his own destiny, to pay this human debt. As a youth he saw all around him slaves who were forbidden to read, yet expected in church to learn the Word of God. Now in Gaboon, praying, he remembers his early conviction that it is no sin to hate slavery. He reaffirms that he lives to compensate for the damage of slavery by teaching Africans to read. He has been called to this. Yes, the work is hard. So was earning his D. D. from Columbia Theological Seminary.

Wilson gives thanks to God that his wife Jane has been with him in West Africa, from the start. She has nursed him through malaria and assuaged his doubts. Their spiritual centers agree. They feel their labors are well rewarded whenever they glimpse light and self-confidence and knowledge in the eyes of the Mpongwe who are learning to read. That light is a reflection of God’s light. He and Jane know that to be true.

To the Story, I would then add this inscription from Wilson’s tombstone:

 

Tombstone of John Leighton Wilson. From ancestry.com

Tombstone of John Leighton Wilson. From ancestry.com.

REV. JOHN LEIGHTON WILSON D. D.

THE FOREIGN MISSIONARY

BORN MAR 25, 1809 DIED JULY 13, 1886

EIGHTEEN YEARS A MISSIONARY ON THE WESTERN COAST OF AFRICA

THIRTY THREE YEARS SECRETARY OF FOREIGN MISSIONS

HE RESTS FROM HIS LABORS AND HIS WORKS DO FOLLOW HIM.

GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE.

After the inscription, I could explain my identification with Wilson, contributing to the “Why Africa?” question. I know hatred of slavery, too, and I feel the wrongs of history. Although I am not a doctrinal Christian, I do admire the ministries of Jesus, the “going forth” part. The Episcopal church of my childhood said these words to our departing congregation: “Remember the poor, pray for the sick, and be kindly affectioned one to another.” I understand why Wilson would leave home and family and neighbors for this kind of radiant hope. Perhaps I share his sense of reward in my work as a volunteer literacy tutor. One of my students is black, the other Latina. Whenever they have a “eureka” moment while reading a paragraph, or solving a division problem, the light in their eyes might as well be the light of God for the effect it has on me—never mind whether I’m a believer or not.

Next in the Story I would describe John Wilson finishing his prayers, rising, and preparing for his night’s rest. My facts come from his passport application and quotations by those who knew him.  He is six feet tall with gray eyes, a ruddy complexion, dark brown hair (at age 41), and a broad frame. He has a calm, measured walk. He is “massive in proportion, reminding one of the Doric order of architecture.” (2) One friend said, “His life was like the easy flow of a mighty river, when at its average height, bearing immense cargoes to their destination, and yet doing it with so much ease and quietness as scarcely to attract attention.” (3)

But on this night, October 14th of 1850, John Wilson’s ease and quietness is broken by the evening mail. A letter arrives from his sister to tell him that his father, William Wilson, has died. This letter has taken many months to travel from South Carolina to Africa.

The next morning, October 15th, Wilson sits down to write a reply. His handwriting is widely spaced, its letters like slight whitecaps on a huge ocean. He writes to his sister,

  • “Your letter of the 5th Jan announcing the death of our dear, aged father was handed to me last night. My mind was prepared to receive this intelligence by your previous letter of the 5th of [illegible] which had come to hand only one week before. And the dear man is gone! I can scarcely realize it. How many touching associations has the announcement awakened! That homestead, identified almost with our existence, how changed. The church he loved and frequented, how sensible his absence be felt! Ah, the joyous meeting in Heaven, husband, wife and daughter all embraced in the same arms of love. I can scarcely repress the desire to be there, too, and instead of grieving, I almost rejoice that our dear father is released from his intense suffering. And yet I can scarcely force my mind to the conclusion that I shall write his dear name on the back of no more letters—shall say “dear father” no more. Be it so, since thou dear Father in Heaven has so ordered it. . . .”

Here are more possible reasons for Wilson’s eighteen-year stay in Africa. I cannot identify with this saintliness, but I can try to imagine Wilson’s faith as his foundation. He is able to work far from his family, in remote regions, because he absolutely believes in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. “Everyone was sure of the purity of his aims.” (4)

 

John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886). Property of Mariann Regan

John Leighton Wilson (1809-1886).   Property of Mariann Regan

 

John Wilson and his wife Jane could work intensively for eighteen years, far from home. That’s how powerful their motivations were. Why? Many reasons, in many combinations. No one can see all that is in a person’s heart.

 ~ ~ ~

 There is more to this Story. How did Wilson deal with his fellow Southerners when he returned home? How did he respond to the widespread movement to resume the slave trade?

 

 

(1) The Daily Item, Sumter, SC, Thursday, August 13, 1970, 24. Material for this article is taken from “Dr. John Leighton Wilson,” a paper by Mrs. J. W. Scott, Dr. Wilson’s granddaughter, obtained from the Sumter County Historical Society.

(2) E. T. Thompson, Presbyterians in the South. John Knox Press: May, 1973.  I, 306.

(3) W. W. Mills in The Daily Item, 26.

(4) Robert L. Dabney, in Thompson, II, 292.

The Church Was Black and White. Your Thoughts?

Here is the Church,
Here is the steeple.
Open the doors
And see all the people.
–Old childhood rhyme

Fraser

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

Not long ago, one of my second cousins—I’ll call him Fred—located me through this blog. Fred was new to me—a twice-removed relative of my maternal grandmother (née Fraser), but with another surname.

Another unknown South Carolina relative had handed Fred my family memoir. Copies of my book are being passed around down there in the South, from one unknown relative to another. Several new cousins have written to me. No one has complained. Yet.

When Fred read my book, he decided to send me all the Fraser material passed down to him by his great-grandmother. Fred wanted me to verify or correct the details and then prep this material to be archived, maybe by the South Carolina Historical Society.

Fred didn’t have to ask me twice. He was offering a ton of material, a treasure trove. More for the family tree!

Fred’s stash gave me the first clues for discovering those once-famous planters / slaveholders / ancestors I’ve been blogging about during the last few months—such as the English immigrant from Barbados with a land grant. Or those wealthy Irish and English rice planters whose plantation houses are still open to the public for tours in South Carolina. I have more ancestors like these, to be described in later blogs.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

But right now, I want to discuss a document I found yesterday, on one of Fred’s computer discs.

This document is a nineteen-page typed history of a typical old South Carolina church I’ll call Q Church. It was delivered as a celebration address to the membership in 1909, at the church’s 100-year anniversary.

This church was Presbyterian. They had both black (slave) and white (free) members, as did my Kirven ancestors’ Black Creek Baptist Church in Darlington. They believed strongly that the church should have full oversight of moral infractions by church members.

Background: Many antebellum Southern churches acted as moral guardians of their members’ behavior. The Black Creek Baptist Church of my Kirven ancestors sent four deacons to your home if you were charged with moral infractions like dishonest business deals or fistfights. The deacons “labored with” you and perhaps gave you another chance. If you were judged past reclamation, you were thrown out of the church. My great-great-great grandfather was expelled for drunkenness, and my great-grandfather for an unproven charge of bastardy.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

The author of this 100-year anniversary celebration address laments the recent lapse of church “discipline.” He fondly recalls antebellum times, when “utmost care was exercised in the reception of members . . . cases of discipline besprinkle the pages of the records very freely.” He cites examples from the records he has studied:

The Session of Q. Church met . . . for the purpose of taking into consideration a charge brought against Daniel, the property of R.S., for lying. After taking the testimony of Old Friday and Bess, his wife, the property of T.U., it appeared that there is a small deviation from the truth, in a single word, by Daniel. . . . We have therefore resolved that Daniel stand suspended for six months from church privileges. . . .

But this exercise of discipline was by no means confined to the negroes. The very first case on record is that of one of the most prominent members, who had an affray with a neighbor, and while the Session acquitted him of blame in the matter, it took occasion to express the hope that in the future all members should avoid such altercations. 

Only two pages further on, we find a matron in the church indefinitely suspended for making a statement derogatory to another, and then denying that she had made such a statement. Later on we find four ladies brought before the Session charged with “a want of filial affection towards their father, a violation of the 5th commandment,” and were indefinitely suspended, and the decision announced to the congregation. . . .

As we read these records of the past we are constantly reminded of the institution of slavery, and of the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers. . . .

Here are a few questions for your comments: (But comment on anything you wish.)

  • What do you suppose this document goes on to say about slavery and this church’s members who are slaves?
  • This document is full of surnames. Do you think it is more of a genealogical document or a historical document? Or is there no distinction between the two?
  • In general, what do you think of this tradition of church discipline? Do you believe it is no longer practiced, or does it linger even today?

A "manse" was a house for a full-time preacher. Photo credit Mariann Regan

 

Ancestors, Land, the British Empire, and Slaves. Part 2.

 

English settlers arrived at the eastern Caribbean island of Barbados in the 1620s, as early settlers of the infant British Empire. In 1656, my 9 x great grandmother and grandfather, Elizabeth Baker and Theophilus Patey, were married there. He was about 23, she about 20.

The colonists in Barbados were also virtually “in” England—politically.

In fact, the brief civil war in Barbados, in 1650-51, echoed the English civil war of 1649-60. What was the fighting about? Slavery (in metaphor), freedom, and the rights of Englishmen.

Patey, Boone, Fraser, South Carolina, Slavery

The Parliament Building in Barbados. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Let’s make a long story short here. A fierce debate about government was playing out in England, with bloody outcomes. Here’s an easy outline:

James I (1603-1625)

Charles I (1625-1649)

Rump Parliament, Oliver then Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector (1649-1659)

Charles II (1660-1685)

James II (1685-1688)

Notice: Two kings, then a no-king period from 1649 to 1660, then two more kings.

Parliament debated extensively, for years, about whether Charles I was acting too much like a tyrant. In 1649 a Rump Parliament led a High Court of Justice to convict Charles I of “treason.” Charles was beheaded on a scaffold in Whitehall, and the office of King was formally abolished.

England had killed its king. A dreaded taboo had been broken (as in Shakespeare plays like Hamlet, Macbeth, and Lear). Oliver Cromwell, a staunch Puritan with an Army, now ruled England. He finally dissolved Parliament and set himself up as Lord Protector. When he died in 1658, his son Richard couldn’t sustain the Protectorate.

So Charles II (son of Charles I) restored the office of King in1660 when he returned from exile and took the throne. Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed from its place in Westminster Abbey, decapitated, and buried in a common pit.

These events sharply polarized Englishmen. The Royalists (Cavaliers) believed in monarchy. The Parliamentarians (Roundheads) believed in Parliament and Cromwell, more or less. These divisions could have bloody consequences.

And this polarization crossed the Atlantic.

The white planters in Barbados knew their political differences as Royalists vs. Parliamentarians. Yet they agreed to suspend all disputes, because as a group they were busy growing rich by cultivating sugar with slave labor.

This political calm lasted until King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. Then the Royalists in Barbados grew angry. Soon, three more events stoked the flame.

  • In 1650 Charles II-to-be, from exile, sent Lord Willoughby, the Earl of Carlisle, overseas to govern Barbados. It was a Royalist “strike.”
  • Right away, Parliament struck back. It forbade Barbados to trade with Dutch ships (the ones that supplied African slaves). Royalists in Barbados could now convince their Parliamentarian fellow planters that Cromwell was out to destroy their sugar trade.
  • Finally, the Commonwealth of England in 1651, under Cromwell, sent an invasion force to Barbados—a fleet and an army, to force all English planters to knuckle under to the current government.
 Well, nobody expected the Royal Navy. Not even the Barbadians.
  • Patey, Boone, Fraser, British Empire, Royal Navy

    Lord Nelson (1758-1805), consummate hero of The Royal Navy, in National Heroes Square in Barbados. photo credit: Wikipedia

While waiting for the invasion force, the white planters in Barbados met with their Royalist Governor (sent by the exiled Charles II). They were fired up to “defend themselves against the slavery that is intended to be imposed on them.” [my italics]

Theophilus would have been 18, old enough to bear arms, and Elizabeth a few years younger. They would both have been able to recognize the vast difference between the slavery of Africans on the sugar plantations and the “slavery” their own class feared from Cromwell’s tyranny. I imagine they carried this lesson with them to Charles Town in Carolina in the 1670s.

The planters issued a proclamation to the English Parliament on 18 Feb 1651, embracing to the death their principles of freedom and courage.(1) Its purpose was:

  • To announce to the inhabitants of Barbados that they “would be brought into contempt and slavery, if the same (Cromwell’s invasion) be not timely prevented,” and
  • To resolve that Barbadians will not “prostitute our freedom and privileges to which we are borne, to the will and opinion of any one; neither do we thinke our number so contemptible, nor our resolution so weake, to be forced or persuaded to so ignoble a submission, and we cannot think that there are those amongst us, who are soe simple, and so unworthily minded, that they would not rather chuse a noble death, then forsake their ould liberties and privileges.”

The rhetorical bedrock here is the language of liberty vs. slavery. In this way, the planters resemble the writers of our Declaration of Independence. Neither group focuses on the enslavement of Africans.

The colonists of Barbados put up a stiff resistance, and a hundred of them died in the first battle. It wasn’t long before the invasion leader turned the allegiance of the island’s Parliamentarians against its Royalists. The 1652 Charter of Barbados set mild conditions of surrender, with all rebellion forgiven and all lands restored.

The Charter allowed “that all trade be free with all nations that do trade and are in amity with England.” This suggests to me that the Triangle Trade was restored to Barbados, despite the Anglo-Dutch war (1652-1654).

Soon, Barbados was stable enough that young Theophilus Patey and Elizabeth Baker could be married at St. Michael’s Parish in 1656 and start a family on the island.

Patey, Boone, Fraser, Slaves, British Empire

Barbados. St. Michaels in the southwest of the Island.

By 1660, the white planters of Barbados were back in business with as much trade, and as many slaves, as they had ever had. Or more.

Notes:

(1) Dr. Karl Watson writes, “It is interesting to note that in almost every warning or advisory issued by the Barbadians, slavery was used as a metaphor for the political control which England wished to establish over the island. It is more than ironic that the political directorate of an island, whose economy depended on slavery and the majority of whose population were slaves, should have used this institution as a rallying call for freedom for themselves.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taming the Briar Patch

Here’s My Simple New Year’s Resolution: Focus.

This is a book blog for Into the Briar Patch: A Family Memoir. By focusing on my own Southern ancestors, the book explores some blockbuster questions. The purpose of this blog is to continue digging into these questions. Here are two of them:

  • What are the psychological origins of racism for whites in this country?
  • How can racism and the trauma of slavery be further healed, with compassion and respect for blacks and whites alike?

These two questions have an “action” component for me:

Last year, with research and great help from Twitter friends, I found several living Kirven (maternal-paternal) relatives who are biracial. Some of my (white) cousins and I are waiting for their further responses to my letters and phone inquiries. Would our biracial second cousins like to meet us? I hope so. But I’m not going to pester them or rush them.

This coming year, maybe I will find living Fraser (maternal-maternal) relatives who are biracial. If so, I’ll write more letters. I’ll hope again for a meeting.

Here are two more questions raised by Into the Briar Patch:

  • To what degree are people’s moral compasses shaped by historical contexts? Does everyone have a certain “core sense” of good and bad, or not?
  • Why do good people end up committing harmful acts, while still believing in the “goodness” or justifiability of these acts?

These two questions verge upon a classic problem, the origin of evil in human beings. At the end of Voltaire’s Candide, the bedraggled surviving characters lament to a wise philosopher: “But surely . . . there is a dreadful amount of evil in the world.” Why? They ask him. The philosopher tells them to shut up and slams the door in their faces.

Right. The best response is laughter. But the mystery of evil is still out there.

The briar patch of human nature has some mighty dark places. Yet we all start as babies, by our very nature good. Go figure.

Fraser, Kirven, racism, Voltaire, human nature, genealogy, blogs

Light and Shadow

These four questions make up focus of my blog, then. I’ll be attentive to healing action, the unexpected, humor, mystery, and the good/evil paradox of human nature. I’ll look for these themes as I keep searching for my living biracial second cousins, and as I contemplate the moral views expressed or acted-on by my Kirven and Fraser ancestors in the South.

So much to research and write about, I realize. I’ll be grateful if I can tame only my small section of the briar patch of human history.

We can pick only one berry at a time. And only when it ripens.

I’ll try to post weekly, whenever I come across a new living relative, an unexpected moral insight, a curious find, a mystery, or a story that brings a smile or a tear.

AND …

Happy New Year to my readers! I’m always glad to see your comments, thoughts, and questions!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Names of Slaves: Can You Locate Your Ancestors By Using My Ancestor’s Will?

African-Americans looking for enslaved ancestors often meet brick walls. There is no comprehensive index of African-American slave names—either their first names during enslavement or their first-and-last names when freedom finally came.

Some of the best clues to this information are in the documents of slaveholding families.  An uncounted number of slaveholder wills do identify the first names of slaves who are being bequeathed as “property.” Because popular first names can pass down through a family, it becomes crucial to know the first names of one’s enslaved ancestors—in case they re-appear on the landmark 1870 census.

Slave ancestors may also have chosen to take the surname of their owner, or a variant of that surname, when they were freed. Having a plausible theory of both first name and surname of an enslaved ancestor can help bring about revelations from the 1870 or 1880 censuses.

In my opinion, there should be a complete database of slaveholder wills online, full of first names of slaves, and well indexed. Descendants of slaveholders could join to make this happen. It would be only fair.

Until that time, we soldier on individually.

Right now I can share 55 first names of slaves from the 1820 will of my 3 x great grandfather, John Baxter Fraser (1767-1820). I discovered his will last week.

Some background: John Baxter Fraser had a plantation in the Sumter District of South Carolina. He began working the fields in the 1790s, farming inferior land and living under frontier conditions, with 2 or 3 slaves. Through settlements of his white relatives’ estates, he owned 20 slaves by 1801. He lived in a 28 x 20 foot log house, and his slaves built log houses for their families. By 1820, his wife Mary and two children had died, but he had 9 remaining children, ages 11 to 30, to whom he bequeathed his farm supplies, his land, and his (by then) 55 slaves. In his will he kept together all of the slave families whom he owned.

Here are further ideas for anyone searching for enslaved Fraser ancestors. John Baxter Fraser also bequeathed his slaves’ “future increase” (children) to his own children, and instructed them to bequeath these slave families and their “increase” to their own children—or if they had none, to their surviving white siblings.

Therefore, until the end of the Civil War, the families of these 55 enslaved people would probably have lived with some white family surnamed Fraser (Frasier, Frazier, Frazer) either in the Sumter District of South Carolina, or wherever that family moved. Here I give the BD dates of each of the 9 Fraser children, and the probable married names of the Fraser daughters, to aid genealogical searches. I also include possible places to which each Fraser sibling may have relocated. (These relocation suggestions are from those infamously unverified public family trees, but surely every hint is welcome in a caring search.)

As it happens, one of John Baxter Fraser’s sons is my 2 x great grandfather, Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-1889):

Ladson Lawrence Fraser Sr

Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-1889). Photo owned by author.

He and his wife Hannah Boone owned a Boone-Fraser plantation, Booneland:

Booneland Ladson Lawrence Fraser Hannah Boone

Booneland. Photo owned by the author.

First Names of Slaves in the 1820 will of John Baxter Fraser, as willed to his children:

To Samuel Fraser (1790-1843): Ben, Diana her child Xury and her future increase, and the negro girl Delia my negro slaves Toney & Affy   Samuel may have been buried at Pawleys Island, Georgetown, South Carolina.

To Mary Fraser (1792 – ): Cyrus, Milly and her children to wit Amoutta, Satira, and July and my waiting Boy Primus, Lucy and her two children Labinia and Abeline  Mary may have been married to Sinclaire Deschamps.

To William Hickman Fraser (1793-1864): Caesar & his wife Dorcas, George, Liddy and her two children Lembrick and Dorcas  William may have died in Darlington, South Carolina.

To Jane Baxter Fraser (1794-1840): George & his wife Brunette, Lucy & her two children To wit Peggy & Nelson, and my negro girl Charlotte Jane may have married Thomas Boone in 1827.

To John Glasgow Fraser (1796-1860): Tome and his wife Dince & her child Heriott

To Thomas Fraser (1798-1863): Judith, Frank, Prince, Silla & her two children. Viz. Sylva and Abigail  Thomas may have moved to Alachua, Florida, and had many children.

To Robert Fraser (1800-1886): old Ben, old Suckey his wife, Tyler, Nero, Dandy, Maria and her child Argen  Robert may have moved to Bishopville, South Carolina.

To Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-89):  Dick, & his wife Kate, Nanny & her three children vix. Heram, Rufus, and Susanna Ladson stayed in Sumter District, South Carolina. 

To Elias Lynch Fraser (1809-51): Anthony, Ambrose, Marianne, Daphan young Suckey, and Sophronia Elias may have moved to Lancaster, South Carolina, and had a number of children by his first and second wives.

Given the terrible reality that people were enslaved and then bequeathed as property, I hope this information can help some African-Americans trace their ancestors and learn more about their families.

Sources: The full source for John Baxter Fraser’s history is Cotton Culture on the South Carolina Frontier: Journal of John Baxter Fraser 1804-1807, edited by John Hebron Moore and Margaret DesChamps Moore. This book holds some more information about the 55 enslaved people and their lives with John Baxter Fraser. It is available from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

The entire 1820 will of John Baxter Fraser can be found here.

 

*** Footnote relating to my last blog: I’ve received a brief, tentative response from my letter. My relative is considering what to do and talking the matter over with her aunt. She says she’ll let me know. I am waiting hopefully.

 

 

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down

This is the third blog in the series,

A Search for the Living Descendants of Curley Kirven

My research during the last two days has yielded both big finds and dashed hopes.

Recap: I believe my great-grandfather Erasmus had a biracial son, Tom, with Annie Tony (probably a slave) in 1855. Tom’s death certificate names his parents.

It seems that Tom had several children, among them a son Curley, the informant on Tom’s death certificate. Curley Kirven and Charlotte Kirven had four children, with these birth years as estimated by the 1920 and 1940 censuses:

Ida May, b. 1914

Lillian, b. 1916

Josh, b. 1917

Tom, b. 1919 (named after Curley’s father)

These four children would be my biracial second cousins.

In my last blog post, I guessed Ida May’s and Lillian’s married surnames. I was so wrong! I’ve found the correct names now, but I won’t reveal them here.

Two days ago, I started researching Josh and Tom. First, I looked for their death certificates on ancestry.

Eureka! I found them both! Beginner’s luck. Tom’s SSDI says he died in South Carolina in the 1980s. Josh’s says he died there in the 1990s . . . but wait! I see a CT death index for a Josh Kirven who died on that same day, in Waterbury, CT. What?

So I searched for the two brothers’ obituaries in the RCPL database (Richland County Public Library, South Carolina). Months ago, some unrelated searches of this same database had given me correct but skimpy obituaries. So my hopes were low. I expected to find obituaries that would tell me little more about Josh and Tom.

Oh, my. Eureka and beginner’s luck again! The full-text obituaries for Josh and Tom mentioned spouses, children, grandchildren, the married surnames of their sisters, resident cities, a church name, and even some work history. Many, many thanks for the expert help of the Local History Manager of the RCPL, Debbie Bloom, recommended by Robin Foster of @savingstories and @LCAfricana.

Here was matter for more research. Bright hope in a dim landscape, like fall flowers and foliage (we’re talking symbols here):

Mariann Regan Front Yard

Our front yard today: Monkshood before a Japanese Cut-Leaf Maple

Apparently, Josh and Tom had moved North soon after 1940 to work in the Waterbury Rolling Mills, in Waterbury, Connecticut. Josh had worked there 50 years, and died in Waterbury in the 1990s.  That meant I had been living right down the turnpike from these two biracial cousins for three decades! For in 1964 I also had moved North, to live first in New Haven and then in Fairfield. This fact alone was a head-smacking discovery.

So now, what about the children of my four biracial second cousins?

(1) Ida May is in the 1940 census with her married surname and husband, but no children. I looked for them in the white pages today, in the resident city named in the obituaries. But neither is listed there now, almost 100 years after Ida May’s birth. A Peoplesmart search of the surname alone gave me 30 results—yet none of the first names are remotely familiar. [Note: Use message boards to search for the children or grandchildren of this couple.]

(2) Lillian’s married surname is a common one. Her resident cities are “the Bronx” and “New York.” Although I searched the 1940 census with her birth year and married name, I found nothing useable. For example, listed in Manhattan was a Lillian, with a husband and two very young daughters. These daughters, grown and married, would then be two surnames removed—needles in a haystack.

(3) Neither obituary mentioned Josh’s children, if any. His wife in Waterbury survived him, but she is not in the white pages there today. [Note: Look for her DC and obituary.]

So far, my hopes were being dashed or semi-dashed, one by one. My remaining options seemed slim.

(4) But Tom, the youngest child of Curley Kirven, had three children mentioned in his obituary. Grandchildren, too! Surely some living people lay down this path. (No given names or surnames are mentioned beyond this point.)

At this point I began to feel a bit manic. Like the laughing baby in this video, who seems to enjoy tearing up documents—hmmm, as if he were a genealogist going bonkers after too many dead-end searches:

This is a short and funny video. You’ll like it.

Then finally, one last Eureka happened to me. I said “Eureka” softly, so as not to tempt the fates. Tom’s third child is a daughter, whose married surname had been mentioned in his obituary. Good old Peoplesmart revealed her phone number and address, and her secure email, for $30.00.

This is good, I told myself. This is still a great “find.”

My relatives and I will now try to contact this woman. Just as we tried to contact “A,” several posts ago.

Maybe this was not an “exhaustive” search, but it was surely an exhausting one . . . . . . Zzzzzzzz.

 

 

Step Up to the Brick Wall

A means to an end—that’s what genealogy is for me.

The end is to connect with living family—to celebrate, understand, and create a better future. Genealogy brings knowledge. And knowledge empowers us to do some good in our little corner of the world.

The maple (yellow for hope) in our own front yard

Last summer our family gathered together 80 first-cousins-plus-descendants for a festive Reunion. Many of us were meeting for the first time. With the help of charts and family trees, we learned exactly how we were related. We “did good,” I think.

Now I’m searching for our mulatto second cousins, descended from our great-grandfather the South Carolina planter. Several of my kin, along with me, want to find these biracial relatives, talk with them, and listen carefully to them. Maybe together we can start to inch past the old days of slavery and racism.  I’m just sayin’.

Why? Some people ask me. Why would you ever want to do such a thing?

Just idealistic, I guess. In our country, it was people who created wounds from racial differences, and I’m betting it will be people who can heal these wounds – with enough knowledge, respect, and compassion for one another.

This belief helped motivate me to write my family memoir (link), and it has also spurred me to work at the Mercy Learning Center:

Mariann Regan Mercy Learning Center

Four mornings a week I volunteer here as a tutor. Bridgeport has 35,000 adult women without literacy skills. In practice, this situation is a racial divide that stems from de facto racial inequalities in public education. Here at MLC, over 600 women (representing 51 countries) work to strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills. Many go on to earn their GEDs. Here are their ethnicities and ages:

Mariann Regan Mercy Learning Center

In this same spirit of connection and knowledge, I’d like to help bridge the silence and ignorance that now separates white from their (as yet unknown) mulatto relatives across our country. We carry one example of that silence within our own extended family, because our white ancestors, who owned slaves, in some instances had children by slaves. Their descendants are our current reality. Can we talk?

I think I may have already found one living biracial second cousin – but as I explained in my latest blog post, he did not answer my letter or email. He has no voice mail. At 85 years old, is he perhaps unwell? Has he moved? Might he be reluctant to respond?

I don’t know. But I’m not giving up now, not by a long shot. I’m searching for other biracial cousins and second cousins.

First in a Series: A Search for the Living Descendants of Curley Kirven

Curley Kirven, born in 1892, seems to be the mulatto grandson of my g-grandfather and a black slave woman.

For me, he is a path toward living biracial relatives.

This path has turned into a brick wall.

So.  I’m going to blog my search for Curley’s descendants, step by step, in a series of posts starting today. I’ll look at every relevant database that my friends in genealogy have suggested or will suggest. I’ll try to consider historical context.  Maybe my amateurish efforts will help others to learn (or teach) genealogy. Advice is always welcome!

If I approach the present, I will omit the names of living people, for their privacy.

Here goes.

Documented Evidence:

  • Curley Kirven is the informant listed on the Death Record of Thomas Kervin, who died on 6 Jan, 1921 in Lydia, Darlington, SC.
  • Thomas was born 15 Sept 1855 to a father “Erasitus Kervin” and a mother “Annie Tony” both of Darlington County, according to his Death Record. Annie Tony is listed as black (B) in other census records. In 1855 she would likely have been a slave.
  • My great-grandfather was Erasmus Kirven, a white Darlington planter (1817-1897).
  • Tom Kirven, mulatto (Mu), born abt. 1854, is a farmer with a wife and young daughter (Mu), all listed on the 1880 Census for Leavensworth, Darlington, SC. He lived and farmed close to the home of my great-grandfather, Erasmus Kirven. (This wife and daughter are not found in later censuses. I yearn in vain for an 1890 census.)
  • Tom E. Kirven, black (B), born abt. 1853, is a farmer with a different wife and seven children, all listed on the 1900 Census for Leavensworth, Darlington, SC. Curley is one of his sons, with birth date “Feb 1892.”
  • Thomas E. Kervin, mulatto, born abt. 1853, and his son Curley, mulatto, born abt. 1892, are listed as father and son in the 1910 Census for Lydia, Darlington, SC.

Note: The variety of spellings (Kirven/Kervin/Kirvin) and race abbreviations (Mu, B,) are typical. A person’s birth year often varies from one census to another. Lydia and Leavensworth and Epworth (below) are in the same area of Darlington County.

My tentative conclusion: Tom, Thomas or Tom. E. [Erasmus?] Kervin/Kirven is the son of Erasmus Kirven (white) and Annie Tony (black). Tom’s son, Curley Kirven, would have been my mother’s mulatto half-cousin.

What about descendants of Thomas and Curley?  My most important clue, so far, is the 1920 census:

Mariann Regan 1920 Census Curley Kirven

Here Curley Kirvin, his wife Charlotte, and their four children Ida May, Lilian, Josh, and Thomas are living in Epworth, Darlington. The letter under “Color” for Curley is blurred. Perhaps it is Mu with a B written over it, a sign of changing census codes. Curley is a farmer. His home is rented. He is not on a salary or wage, but is working on his own account (OA).

After 1920, Curley reappears in only two documents, a Social Security application in 1957 and a SSDI in 1964.  I have found no further record of his wife or his children.

In my next post (soon, I hope!), the search for Curley’s descendants will continue.  What do I need to know and where can I look next? I have a few ideas and sources lined up.

All ideas welcome!

Sources:

South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955, ancestry.com

1880 Federal Census Records, ancestry.com

1900 Federal Census Records, ancestry.com

1910 Federal Census Records, ancestry.com

1920 Federal Census Records, ancestry.com

 

 

Found. Now, Contact?

Ring. Ring. Surreal suspense. If he answers his phone, his family and ours could possibly dive together into 200 years of family history.

He is likely my second cousin—even though he is mulatto and I am white. We both may be great-grandchildren of the same man, a South Carolina planter born in 1817. Almost 200 years ago.

Great-Grandmother Mary Caroline and Great-Grandfather Erasmus in the mid-1800s

But no one answers. The rings finally stop.

That was two days ago.

I first learned of this possible second cousin over a month ago. He is 85 years old.

First, I emailed him through Peoplesmart’s secure service. I identified myself by age, occupation, race, and phone. I said my research had suggested that he and I were related, and I’d really appreciate being able to talk with him, “if it is all right with you.” I tried to be deferential and straightforward.

No response. In a few days, I mailed him a letter that repeated my email, and added that we might want to compare great-grandparents. So now he had my phone number, my address, my plea, and my intent.

No reply to my letter. So I waited until two days ago, when I phoned him.

Ring. Ring. No answer.

What is my evidence that this man may be my second cousin? Census records, church minutes, death certificates, family rumors, and plain old probability. Some selected “finds,” without names (to preserve the privacy of the living):

  • This man has the same name as a person (call him A) who appears through census records to be my second cousin. The 1940 U. S. Census lists A as born in 1927, so A would be 85. This man is 85.
  • Both this man and A bear our family surname and a first name used within our family. Both are from the same South Carolina town. In the 1800s, our family lived in that town and the surname was well known.
  • This man is the only person in the United States today with this particular first name and surname.
  • A’s mulatto grandmother was born in 1847, according to census reports. In mid-1849 my great-grandfather was expelled from a Baptist church on an unproven charge of bastardy—that is, fathering an illegitimate child—according to the church minutes.
  • A’s father appears as a mulatto boy in the 1880 and the 1900 censuses. In 1880 he has the surname of his mulatto mother’s black husband. But in 1900 this same mulatto boy has a new surname—our family’s surname. What has changed? One thing: in 1900 the mulatto boy’s black grandmother has joined the household. She may have argued for the name change.
  • The mulatto boy’s black grandmother (A’s great-grandmother) is listed as “Mother” on the 1921 death certificate of another mulatto man, B, who has our family’s surname. Listed there as B’s “Father” is my great-grandfather, whose name is unusual and unmistakable. B’s birth year is 1855. He was born into slavery. In 1880, after slavery, B and his own family lived close to my great-grandfather and farmed a plot of land.

I am inferring this hypothesis: My great-grandfather had two mulatto children by the same black woman, who was a slave: (1) a daughter born in 1847 (A’s grandmother) and (2) a son, B, born in 1855. This black woman may have decided that each of these children should bear my great-grandfather’s surname, for both did.

I believe genealogists call this a “collateral line.” While all traces of ancestors hold meaning, I am the type of (amateur) genealogist who seeks especially to find the living.

The tombstone shared by my great-grandmother and great-grandfather. Across the top, MOTHER and FATHER are written in capital letters

I believe the man I found on Peoplesmart is likely to be A, my second cousin. When I first discovered him listed among the living, I emailed some family members who live near him, to ask whether they would like to approach him. I had prepared them for this kind of “find” at last summer’s reunion.

Two relatives were enthusiastic about reaching out to this man. They were eager to learn more about his family history and ours, and to know whether he has children. Two others were not interested. “Better let well enough alone,” they said. The rest told us to do whatever we thought best. One cousin even said: “If he shows up here, I’ll welcome him into my home.”

Involving my family members felt positive to me. Thomas DeWolf and his family had a similar reaction when they learned their ancestors had been famous and rich Northern slave-traders: They sent letters to 200 of their relatives. Ultimately, ten family members joined an expedition to retrace the steps of those slave-trading ancestors. DeWolf’s cousin, Katrina Brown, filmed the trip and made a PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade. DeWolf published a memoir in 2008, Inheriting the Trade.

Contacting family members about a disturbing family history is not all roses. I spoke briefly with DeWolf on September 10th, through Bernice Bennett’s Blog Talk Radio. Dewolf said that a number of his relatives were not pleased that he was focusing on their family’s slave-trading history. He added that members of Edward Ball’s family, about a decade ago, were upset with him for writing Slaves in the Family.

But DeWolf also told me that after resisting at first, some of his family and Ball’s family are “coming around” toward a positive view. I’m glad. When your ancestors have participated in historical atrocities, it’s good to acknowledge that reality. Once you admit fact, you can start unraveling the hows and whys of human nature. You can move toward healing. I’ve tried to do that in my family memoir, Into the Briar Patch, which studies the effects of owning slaves upon my ancestors and their descendants.

On Bennett’s September 10th program, I asked a question of her other guest, Sharon Morgan, who is DeWolf’s new co-author. How should a person approach a biracial relative who descends from slaves owned by that person’s family? This is my case. Sharon advised this straightforward statement: “Through research I have found that we’re related. I would really appreciate being able to talk with you.” She also said to keep trying for contact—since the message might not get through at first.

I’m taking Sharon’s advice, and I’m grateful for it.

Sharon Morgan descends from slaves, while Tom DeWolf descends from slave traders. Their new co-authored book—released today, October 9th—is entitled Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade.

Tom and Sharon believe in the work of Coming to the Table, an organization that helps people acknowledge and heal the wounds from racism that are rooted in our history of slavery. Here, the descendants of slavery and slaveholders can meet. George Geder sent me the link to Coming to the Table during Bennett’s Blog Talk Radio session with Tom and Sharon.

In fact, George Geder and Robin Foster were the ones who told me about Bernice Bennett’s series of programs. Grateful shout-outs to all three!

Coming to the Table promotes truth, listening, and the long work of reconciliation. I would like to participate in this vital work, in whatever small way our family can.

I’ll try again to contact this man who may be second cousin.

I’ll also keep searching for traces of C, a son of the mulatto man B. I found C in the 1920 census living with a wife and four children . . . but nothing more until his Social Security number in 1957 and his SSDI in 1964. What happened to his children? His descendants would be related to our family.

While A’s (my prospective second cousin’s) phone was ringing, I was filled with surreal anxiety. I’m ready to withstand that kind of anxiety again. Connecting with lost relatives . . . those are high stakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asking the Family

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?