Most of us who find ourselves irresistibly drawn to genealogy love the challenge of solving tough mysteries. Perhaps the thirst for opportunities to stretch to ever-higher levels of skill has you saving up to cross oceans for your “way-back” family history. But the biggest challenge of your genealogical career might be in your own hometown.
Go back to that level of your family tree you finished ages ago and fill in what’s missing — the rest of your ancestors’ story and the story of people your family depended upon. You’ll need new skills, new methods, and new historical knowledge. That’s half of the fun, right?
Beyond the thrill of solving genealogical problems, though, you are offering yourself an opportunity to see the past through different eyes. No matter how enlightened we may believe ourselves to be, nothing can elevate that enlightenment like learning to care for the people our records, histories, and genealogies made invisible. I’m not talking about generic caring at an impersonal distance. I’m talking about the one-on-one caring about every unnamed “asset” in the slave census.
As you begin to find a name for each one, build their family around them, and unfold their story, you will find yourself getting curious about their experience. You will start ordering books you never noticed before, choosing documentaries you’ve overlooked in the past, and looking differently at the African American faces that surround you — as you find yourself wondering who their people were.
This project changes you.
The reasons-you-should menu
- Descendant of slaveowners, do you still hold the key?
- The records of slaveholders
- The group approach to slave identification
- The rest of the family picture
- The challenge and opportunity of a lifetime
- If you don’t have slaveholding ancestors
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