Saturday, March 20, 2010

Coming Late to the Party

As a newbie blogger and poster of genealogical data I thought a carnival had rides and cotton candy.  I was fascinated to discover the blog versions were every bit as entertaining.  I was so moved by the Carnival of African-American Genealogy.  Unfortunately, I've missed the first theme, but look forward to others.

What motivated me about the Carnival was that it addresses one of the key reasons I've finally started sharing my research online.  It has been impossible to research my southern families without facing the role slavery and the Civil War played in their lives.

Things seemed clear when researching my husband's family.  Much loved, but clearly on the wrong side of history.  The wistfulness about the old Virginia homestead did not disguise the fact that slaves built the home, tilled the fields and crewed on the ships that carried their goods back and forth across the Chesapeake Bay. Did his family suffer greatly during the war? Yes.  But nothing like the losses suffered by those they enslaved for generations.  The right side won the war.

The stories we heard of my family, small farmers and tradespeople from East Tennessee, were of staunch Unionists with no hint of Confederate loyalties.  And there were Union soldiers, some who fought, died and came from slave owning families.  There were also those who fought and died for the Confederacy, wives and sisters who fled to the hills hoping to avoid the ravages and ravishing of the war, each side unspeakably cruel and vicious.  Any smugness I felt about my "pure" Union roots vanished as I read more about the Civil War in Tennessee and looked more closely at the census and land records.  The right side looked exactly like the wrong side.  

From this distance, I'm not sure sides matter any more.  What matters is that we look honestly at the past.  I want to know my family and those in their lives.  I have gathered information on their neighbors, kin and associates looking for those tiny details that illuminate their lives.  I know names, religions, occupations.  I know how they died, where they went as they migrated across the country.  And now I know who owned slaves.  I am making an effort to document the slaves, just as I do their neighbors and relations.  It's easier to do with the wealthier families who owned more slaves - more documentation.  But even my small town Tennessee family can provide clues.  The 1860 Washington County, TN census (Campbells district, p. 180, lines 34-35) lists a 24 year old black woman, Sarah and 3 year old Martha E. with the family of Thomas C. McAdams.  The enumerator then crossed their names out and added them to the slave census -  without names.  


  1. Now I will be wondering all day what Sarah and her e year old Martha's stories are. What happened to them when freedom came? I agree - we have to look at the past and be open to the truth.

    like i don't have enough i should be doing instead of looking at old posts. back to the quilting.

  2. Yes! That is so important to be, wherever possible, give identities to the people owned by our ancestors.

    Because their descendants are looking too.


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