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Sunday, March 18, 2012

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Do Not Deny DNA, Genealogy, or Moral Obligation

When I first began researching, I felt completely in the dark about my ancestors.  Neither did I have a clear knowledge of the type of people they were.  I felt a total disconnect because my grandparents on both sides had passed away.

I was concerned that my posterity would not have the knowledge of who these people were either so I took it upon myself to discover as much as I could in order to leave a record for generations to come.  At the time I began, there was not much hope offered to African Americans doing research. The scarcity of records I believe led people to erroneously think and teach that the documentation was non-existent.

I had this dark cloud over me that I constantly fought off. I did not want to buy into that way of thinking. All I had to go on was faith and hope that my journey would provide the clues I was seeking.  At the same time, I knew I could not ignore stories that I grew up hearing.

On my father's side of the family were stories of great persecution being from Mississippi and migrating away to Arkansas, Tennessee, and eventually North to escape the persecutions of Jim Crow. On my mother's side were different types of stories.  They were descendants of the slave holding family on three different lines that I know of so far.  I feel charged to get the stories on both sides as accurate as possible and to be as fair as I can.

On one hand, I need to help my family to know of the hard struggles that they overcame, while at the same time I must tell the truth about the small acts of kindness shown them on the other side of the family because they were not pure African descent.  I cannot tell you how controversial it is with living family members who are descendants of both races especially since some of them still face issues in their lives today.

My great grandfather, George, is the grandson of a slaveholder.
You face not being accepted by African Americans because you obviously are mixed with white and vice versa.  So sometimes you feel more comfortable alone or living your life in between both cultures.  I feel for them because I know of the pain they face inside. There is the pain of not knowing who you are, then the pain of finding out you are not exactly what you thought you were.  

When I had my DNA tested last year, I was happy that I had kept the perspective that I have had all along.  I want to see genealogy eventually unite all races of people.  We who work day in and day out to document the lives of our ancestors and help others are the closest group of people with the capacity to help pull this off. I discovered that I am:

64.49% Sub-Sarahan African
31% European
3.1% East Asian & Native American
1.1 % Unasigned

I always said to my family while growing up, "Why hate? If I hate people of a different race, I am only hating myself."  How those words rang true when I received my DNA results.

I have not spoken much about this dual journey to identify my ancestors and to fulfill my moral obligation to bring unity where I can.  It is becoming a journey of great healing for me.  Until recently, it was only a dream that I would have opportunities.  I feel very blessed to be in South Carolina and to be able to journey to the places my ancestors trod especially in Union County. 

I was fortunate to give three different presentations in the town of Union this year. Two of the presentations were on African American research.  At the first presentation I expressed my desire to help bring all people together.  I saw smiles come from people present from both races. After the first presentation, a gentleman shared with me that I am his cousin through the grandson of the slave owning family.  He told me how I could find documentation on the fact that my ancestor was the first person to own a car in Union.

No sooner had he shared this information, when my African American cousin walked up, and expressed his desire to find the very document. I was astounded.  I located the car registration this week at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.  I cannot wait to present it to my cousin.  

The experiences that I am having in Union are like no other I have had presenting.  Because it is my ancestral homeland, people of both races introduce themselves afterwards as my cousins, and people are anxious to share their knowledge about connections to my same name ancestors.  I am glad that I have not allowed myself to ever prejudge.  I am so fortunate and thankful that the people of Union have opened their hearts to me and that I can work out the obligations I have on their fertile ground.  

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  1. Well-said, well-written. I agree. You are aware of a moral obligation, and it is indeed just that.

    Every Jew and every Christian has read the 10 Commandments that Moses delivered to Israel after they left Egypt. One of those commandments was to "honour thy father and mother." I find family research an excellent way to fulfill this requirement.

    God doesn't command us to do anything but that which will benefit ourselves. What we learn from the lives of our ancestors strengthens our character and broadens our perspectives.

    For truly, we are all races related.

    Happy Dae·

  2. Happy Dae, Indeed! Thank you for connecting it to scripture.

  3. Hi, I found your blog via a recommendation by Randy at Genea-Musings. What a thought-provoking post. I applaud you for seeking out and preserving your heritage for future generations. I've always admired African-American genealogists researching their family trees. It requires an extra effort to find family records. I'm sure it's frustrating at times, but well worth it when you find something special. How exciting to find your ancestor's car registration. Locating records like that are what make genealogy research so much fun!

    1. Thank you so much for visiting and reading this post! Yes, it can be frustrating the close you get to 1870, and you realize that you may find fewer resources. How grateful I am to those who share what they know!

  4. Thank you for your beautifully written perspective. So much of our history is not "over," whether that of slaves and slave-holders, the sides in conflict during the U. S. Civil War (which in the West was as much about conquest), or the American Revolutionary War. We can all do with deeper understanding and more breadth of humankindness.


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