I know it has been a while since I have blogged anything; I do apologize. Life has a way of getting in our way. Particularly when raising a ten-year-old and attempting to assist a 22-year-old in adulting, and having a husband who works 70 hours per week, 14 hours per day. I have been thinking over the past months about what my next blog would be about and how to relate to people why I believe genealogy is more than just a passing fad and something every family should participate in together.
I would say that for many of us, genealogy is an attempt to connect family members we did not know; to determine the truth of stories we have heard; and, to reflect on how that person may have influenced our lives in some way. For others is about healing wounds of abandonment, rejection, and perhaps disgrace and shame. Some of us will even find ancestors who were criminals, and we will either embrace them, or we may feel awkward and shameful. Let me tell you, we should not feel this way about our ancestors. The shame, awkwardness, and humiliation were theirs back then, not ours now.
For their descendants, we should look upon these misfits within the time and circumstance in which their “crimes” were committed. I quoted the word crime because, depending upon the time in history, what your ancestor did may no longer be a crime. For example, simply being poor and unable to pay your bills is no longer a crime punishable by imprisonment. No one these days would be imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their family as was commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Let me give you a personal example, a few years ago I had a relative who did their DNA test. She called me because she knew I had done mine and she wanted to compare. We reviewed the results of our tests. It was odd that our results were not the same because she is my aunt; my mother’s sister. So, her mother and father are my grandparents. We had two definitive differences. Our Jewish 3x (my 4x) great-grandfather showed up in my DNA at less than 1 percent. It did not show up in hers. Weird, right? She then got quiet. I asked her what was up. She said well, I have this weird result. I think it is a mistake. I said “What is it? African or something?” She said, “Yes.” “I said, well, we are from the South, so that wouldn’t be that odd. Who cares. I think it’s great. Wonder why I didn’t get it.” I’m still actually trying to figure this out because my biological father’s side has African and Native American ancestry, neither of which showed up on my Ancestry.com report (but I have many awesome African-American matches on Ancestry.com), but does on Gedmatch.com and DNA Land.
Since that time, we have discovered that we are the direct ancestors of an African-American slave from the outer shores of Virginia named Rebecca Short. Rebecca was the slave of John Hartwell Cocke and his wife, Elizabeth Kennon Cocke. John Hartwell and Elizabeth died in the same year leaving John’s brother Richard Cocke as his executor and guardian of his son John Hartwell Cocke II. John Hartwell II inherited Rebecca from his parents. His uncle Richard purchased Rebecca from his nephew. Rebecca gave birth to a son by Richard. Richard never denied that he was the boy’s father. The child was named Robert W. Kennon. When Richard made out his Will, he provided for both Rebecca and Robert. He freed them both upon his death and he provided that Robert would be raised by his sister and his brother-in-law, Elizabeth Cocke & William Taliaferro. From this point on, Robert would never again be mulatto or be recognized as a former slave, nor would he ever see his mother again. In my mind, the most disappointing and, perhaps shameful, isn’t genetics; it’s that Robert continued to own slaves of his own. He inherited slaves from his father, but his father’s will provided that they would be freed upon Robert attaining the age of 21. However, Robert did not do so. He fought in court to sell the slaves, which he was allowed to do and he made a little over $2,000, but he did not sell all of them. He took the $2,000.00 and two slaves and moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky. He became a wealthier man in terms of money and in family. He had 3 wives and fourteen children. I have just begun putting this side of my family together, but I am looking forward to seeing how far this family goes. To Read more on this story, check out mtpleasantplantation.com
Let me tell you, that I love these kinds of stories. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling because it is the spice of life to have differences in your family. If we were all the same, even within our family, we would be so boring!! Since I began this process about 17-18 years ago, all I had been coming up with were farmers. There is nothing wrong with farmers; they built this country, but hey! give me a policeman or an educator or a minister, something different here or there.
I have heard people lately saying that race is just a social construct, that there is no basis in reality. I beg to differ on that. Races exist because of melanin in the skin. The amount one has in the skin depends upon different circumstances climate being one of them. Hotter climates tend to have people with darker skin; colder climates tend to have lighter skin. I am a firm believer that there is NO such thing as black and white, but differing shades of brown. I, for example, am a light, creamy beige. Because these tend to be in certain areas of the world, it shows up in your DNA. Therefore, it is not a social construct, but a genetic one. I don’t know why it is such a problem. Differences are what make us beautiful and interesting. When I go on a trip somewhere and I go to museums and landmarks, I don’t go to see how they are just like me; I go to see how they’re different, but maybe they’ve influenced me in some way. I want to see art, listen to music, watch movies, meet people who are different from me who can offer me a different perspective. Doesn’t mean it will necessarily change anything, but looking at things from the perspective of another person is a good thing. Don’t be ashamed of who or where you came from. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Honor it. Love them.
Share your stories with your family. Don’t let your life go by without sitting down with your family and sharing your stories, no matter how difficult. Think about what Rebecca might have told Robert’s children if she had been given the opportunity. What a legacy that would have been for us, her descendants.