Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When the papers are purposefully burned

Or merely succumb to the ravages of time


Thanks to Nicka Smith for drawing my attention to "Oral history, Alex Haley's Roots and the question of proof" from the Latino Genealogy blog where author Ellen Fernandez-Sacco discusses the tragedy of eugenics and the unfortunate tradition of downplaying oral history in our research. She thoughtfully writes "Ultimately, our task is to make visible and thereby end the historical erasure of difference (ethnic, race, gender, class) in the historical and genealogical record, and thereby honor those who came before us, our ancestors and their struggles."

True Lewis, your blog is listed in Fernandez-Sacco's post as a resource. So is Bernice Bennett's podcast and Angela Walton-Raji's podcast. Robin Foster's work is mentioned. Gosh, the list goes on and on. There is great scholarship among our fellow researchers and instructors with African American ancestry.

I would also like to point my readers to the recent trip to Ghana by Thom Reed on behalf of FamilySearch's oral history digitization work. He went with a film crew, long after the fact, inquiring about the impact, the feelings people had about the project. He interviewed individuals, families and community leaders in towns and rural communities alike. I was especially touched by his apparent ability to relate to traditions outside the scope of his upbringing. See Thom's public posts here:


#ThomInGhana - Day 6 "Kantanyensua Village," image 10 of 31 from
Thom Reed's Facebook album by the same name. Used with permission.

"Coming of age" for me in white, upper middle class America didn't involve my memorizing ten or twenty generations of my ancestry and being able to recite it accurately in a town council. My culture required paper documents to prove ancestry and it was all about legitimacy and inheritance.

Perhaps my first exposure to the genealogical research challenges faced by People of Color was in the book Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy by Dee Parmer Woodtor Ph.D.

It was from chats with Dee where I learned the value of traditions, food, things our grandmothers told us, and what our grandparents told us of their grandparents. 

Dee helped me understand how those old ways of behaving, our elders' ways of thinking, can influence us for the good. We learn to appreciate the strength of our ancestors to survive and appreciate the sacrifices they made. 

I know that last sentence sounds trite, but I mean it sincerely.

I don't have slave ancestors, but I have female ancestors who didn't have the right to vote. I have ancestors who were tarred and feathered, and run out of town for their religious beliefs. Some of my readers have ancestors smuggled to safety while others perished in Nazi concentration camps. I have younger friends who survived the incursion of the Khmer Rouge as he ordered his men to turn patients out of hospitals, shoot teachers and civil leaders, burn buildings and books - all to obliterate the history of a people and in the ensuing chaos subjugate the people and expand his empire. History is replete with stories of ethnic cleansing and territorial conquest.
What is left when the papers are purposefully burned, or merely succumb to the ravages of time? It is the traditions and teachings of our goodly forefathers, who regardless of circumstances, did their level best to teach us what's truly important - love and respect. 

I think the impact of the Fernandez-Sacco's blog post is further refining my openness and appreciation for my sisters and brothers whose upbringing happened to be different from mine. Maybe refining isn't the right word. Maybe this blog is teaching me. Yes. That's it.

What does this rambling mean? That I don't wish to hang out only with people who are just like me. Ok, Mrs. Graham, my 8th grade grammar teacher, maybe not so much.

I enjoy hanging out with people who are different from me. It helps me appreciate each man. Didn't we outgrow cliques and snap-judgements in high school?

Isn't it delightful to see the variety of family traditions among our friends and neighbors? 😊

As genealogists, don't we thrill at the mere mention of a genealogical breakthrough? 😊

You bet! 💕

It's about finding FAMILY and as Dee always said it's "Finding a Place Called Home."

NOTE: DearMYRTLE and Cousin Russ recognize the United Nations' International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024. We reach out to _all_ regardless of race, color, creed or national origin with support for researching family and documenting cultural inheritance.

NOTE: The old, crumbly account books picture at the top of this post, AdobeStock_27307999, is used by permission from

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