Monday, May 28, 2012

Exploring Family History

Randall Stephens

This weekend NPR featured an interesting story about one scholar's quest to learn more about his family.
Eyre Crowe, Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1861

"Lawrence Jackson went through most of his life not knowing much about his family history," reports Guy Raz.  Continues Raz:

So he began a search, armed with only early boyhood memories, for his late grandfather's old home by the railroad tracks in Blairs, Va. Jackson describes his journey in a new book, My Father's Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War.

Shortly after Jackson began a search for his roots, he found out his great-grandfather was a slave.

"If you said to me that my father's grandfather grew up in slavery and actually spent maybe the first 10 or 15 years of his life as human chattel, I wouldn't have been able to take that idea so seriously" . . . 

This short segment well illustrates how the past still impacts the present.  A course that deals with 19th century US history might make use of stories like this.  In addition programs like Henry Louis Gates' African-American Lives uncover the past in a very personal way.  What better sense could students get of the significance of history?

I'll admit, I've never incorporated a genealogy project into the curriculum.  Yet, stories like these above make me wonder if it would work.


Dan Allosso said...

Strangely, I've not been that interested in my own family's history (or maybe just, not YET). But they weren't here in the 19th century, where I focus my attention. On the other hand, I'm going up to Ashfield this evening to talk with the local historical society's board of trustees about putting together an annotated anthology of the letters of a particular family I've been studying. These particular Yankees left a lot of commentary behind, about their movements westward to NY, MI, Indian Territory and the Pacific gold fields. I think this type of history might help us get a sense of 19th century family values -- not what we'd like them to be from an ideological perspective, but what the family was really interested in, based on what they chose to write each other about. I'll have more to say about this at HCR's panel end of tis week...

Randall said...

Would be interested to hear more about what animated them. Would love to see that in a post!

Harold Henderson said...

Dan -- Is there a way to use the letters to get a sense of what they were equally interested in but all took for granted, and so didn't talk about? -- Harold