I attended some great sessions today. There’s a lot to process and a lot that I could say. I have my own filter for this information though. The session content filters through my own experiences and intellect and personality and passions. So, let me tell you what I heard today and how I’m processing it. There’s a thought thread here, I promise.
One speaker commented on her mother, who’s an adoptee. How, although raised in a loving adoptive family, she never could complete her medical history forms. How her mother was adamant about medical check ups and mammograms. How finding out her maternal haplogroup gave a sense of identity for the first time. Her mother had no biological past before DNA testing helped her uncover it.
Another speaker was an expert on a particular set of records that were created immediately after the U.S. Civil War in the South. She challenged the audience to begin thinking of the word, “slave,” as plural. Not “slaves,” as plural. Because even without the “S” at the end, the word still implies a large group of people.
The BCG Luncheon speaker was a homerun for me, though. The speaker, an African-American, dared to whisper that genealogy can be an agent of social change. She gave examples of how our African-American community, historically, as been left out of our narratives. Her example of a state’s World War I memorial that only recently added it’s African-American soldiers was most stunning.
I sat by a librarian from Virginia Beach at the luncheon. She expressed frustration that she couldn’t find a newspaper article about a family member’s death. In the early 1900s he was murdered in his home in Richmond. She’s looked online and at the Library of Virginia, but couldn’t find any notice of it. My new friend is African American, you see. Richmond newspapers during that time frame, probably wouldn’t have reported his murder because he was black.
Ultimately the speaker called the genealogical community to include African-Americans in their research case studies and in their lectures. Don’t simply note that the your ancestor’s owned slaves. Record those enslaved ancestor’s names, ages, locations, bills of sale, or other transfers of ownership. Uncover their identities and experiences in order to bring those stories into the light.
What must it be like to not have a story?
What must it be like to have your story ignored?
As a native and lifelong resident of Richmond, Virginia, these ideas are powerful in the light of my hometown’s history. They light a fire in my own heart. Because genealogy (either paper or DNA) is a force to uncover what has been hidden. Because we cannot change in ourselves that which we don’t acknowledge.