Union and Confederate soldiers, abolitionists and slaveholders: They are all found in the branches of our families’ trees.
As a child, I would sit at the knee of my Great-Uncle Roy, listening to stories about Taylor-Thomas kin who fought in the War Between the States. I heard tales of how families were torn apart because of differing ideologies and how my own family experienced this strife when two brothers chose different sides. Although both men survived the war, the battle continued for decades, and supposedly neither spoke to the other again.
As an adult, I have discovered similar stories in other branches. In the Watts-Stark line, Stark and Bailey ancestors defied their South Carolinian and Virginian parents, embraced abolition, manumitted or emancipated their own slaves, and moved away from these slave states to the border states of Missouri and Kentucky. Other family members in both my maternal and paternal lines were active abolitionists. Several were Quakers, whose faith condemn slavery as both ethically and religiously wrong, while others, both above and below the Mason-Dixon Line, did their part to help slaves on their flights to freedom, providing food, shelter, and safe passage through their property. Because of these family members, I knew that not all white Southerners supported slavery.
“[You] are the sum total of [your] ancestors. You are not limited by their limitations, but you have the potential of their accumulated sense of possibilities. And, you are a product of their stories even though you don’t know it.” ~Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Like every family everywhere, our combined families (mine, my spouse’s, our stepfamilies’, and extended) are a blend of ups and downs, highs and lows.
Throughout the branches of our family trees, I have discovered abolitionists alongside slaveholders and freemen next to slaves. I hope that by telling each and every tale, no matter how distasteful, that I might help shine a light on one of the darkest times in American history.
It is because of our families’ connections to the many sides of slavery that I found Ancestry.com’s Railroad Ties both poignant and hopeful. I hope you find this short film as moving as I have.
Categories: Cole-Marriner Line, Spangler-Kenney Line, Taylor-Thomas Line, This Is My Life, Watts-Stark Line
Tags: American history, ancestry, family history, family tree, genealogy, lineage, slavery
Last autumn, a genealogical television show I watch stirred up some controversy. It seems that a celebrity whose ancestors were being traced refused to reveal that he has a slave owner in his lineage. Instead, the actor opted to shut his eyes to his ancestor’s existence, silence the echoes of the past, and revise his family history as he saw fit.
As an amateur genealogist, I was appalled. In my humble opinion, every person’s story should be told; and those stories should be as truthful and unbiased as possible. Each of us who has dug deep enough into our family roots has unearthed a skeleton or two or three… It is inevitable. We all have the good, the bad, and the downright “ugly” ancestors. It is what it is.