Saturday, June 28, 2008

Genealogy and History Thoughts Column 15 - Dealing With the Ugly Side of History: Slavery in the United States

Earlier today, I posted a link to an article on one family's discovery of their involvement in the slave trade, and afterwards, Thomas asked me what my thoughts were about this article and its affects on genealogy research. To be honest, this is a difficult topic to write about, and I'm not sure I can write a post that does justice to this topic. I will try my best, though.

Do I believe a discovery like the one the family made above would deter or stop people from doing genealogy? Maybe. I think it depends upon whether or not the genealogists in question were prepared to expect to find ugly family secrets. Even though I have no clue how many people might be scared away from doing their genealogy, my guess is that the number would be fairly small. (Of course, I could always be wrong.)

To be honest, I think if I found a dark family secret, it would still come as a shock to me even though I know I might uncover something ugly in my family's past. I have not uncovered any slave-owning ancestors yet, but I am not going to be presumptuous and claim that I do not have any ancestors who were. I might still uncover an ancestor who was a slave-owner.

If I find a slave-owning ancestor, what will I do? To be honest, I do not know what I would do, and I guess I will not know unless I come upon this situation. But, I think the best solution would be to be honest about my family's past. It probably would be difficult to admit, but I do not believe hiding or white-washing my family's past would be a good decision. History is full of incidences where humans have behaved ugly or done horrible things to other humans, and it does not do anyone any good to try to hide the past.

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