( semi Woke ramblings from an old White lady)
I love trees and love to write about trees, but I have not written about one tree that I have spent years learning about…my Family Tree. My ancestors lives were filled with triumph and tragedy, joy and sorrow. They were products of genetics and of the times they were born into. I take no pride in their accomplishments nor do I apologize for their faults.
Trees (oil on cardboard by Barbara Block Downes, my mother)
My paternal grandmother, Mary, loved me and I loved her. She was born into a large family and had lots of funny stories about her siblings and other relations. Sometimes a story would be told about her grandfather and others that related to Civil War days. My brother and I would ask her if her family had owned slaves back then. My memory is that she would change the subject, that she didn’t want to discuss this. But, I just took it for granted that these landowning farmers in rural Louisiana were slave owners.
Relatives on both sides of my family have researched our genealogical lines and I have lots of information. My tree is full of names and dates, with a few short sketchy details of their lives. But, I wanted to learn more about who all these names were as people. This became especially important to me after my parents died. The more I researched my family history, the more I felt connected to all those that came before.
My grandmother Mary and some of her other female relatives documented the ancestors back to Revolutionary War times. She was a proud DAR member and gave my brother and I copies of her DAR documents and brief histories of her family. There were gaps in the information about some of the people and I set about filling in the gaps. Besides a few trips to places my ancestors lived, I have mostly done online research. I have learned much from old newspapers and other documents. The census records are interesting and easily accessible online. They have given me a clearer picture of the people I came from.
In the 1860 U. S. Census for Franklin County, Louisiana (taken in August 1860), her grandfather (my great great grandfather), William Buie, is shown to be 39 years old and living with his wife and 3 children and 3 unrelated people. One of his children was 7 year old Henry H. Buie, my great grandfather. William’s occupation is farmer. His real estate was listed as worth $15,400 and his personal property being worth $1,715.
This led to me checking the U. S. Slave Schedules of 1850 and 1860. My people were well represented in these records and were not hard to find. This validated my suspicions that many on my grandmother Mary’s side were slave owners. But, I also was unprepared for my emotional reaction as I read through the records for the first time. It is one thing to have an abstract idea that “Yes, my ancestors probably owned slaves.” I did the search in the records for William Buie and a record popped up on my computer screen…Yay! I found him! Then I read on…a long list of humans with no names, only sex and age listed. I cried. There were 17 souls listed as enslaved ranging in age from 35 years down to a 1 year old (including twin 6 year old boys).
Partial list of the 17 enslaved people listed as owned by my great great grandfather
Now, imagine you are a descendant of these nameless people and you want to know who they were. This is an almost impossible task. However, some documents (wills, bills of sale, runaway slave ads) contain the names of the enslaved. There is a collaborative project called Beyond Kin, where family historians can upload and share documents. So, if I find a document about my White ancestors that has the names of the enslaved, I can share this with Black and Mixed race people doing their own genealogical research.
Soapbox: The more I hear people putting down “Woke” culture, the angrier I get. The opposite of woke is asleep. Being asleep can be a great escape from the nastiness that humans inflict on one another…but, living in a dream world does not make the world better and it doesn’t make us better as people.
I am a bit more awake after seeing these records of my family and I see with different eyes. I don’t feel guilty coming from these people. I do not apologize for them. I have gotten more interested in History.
Some people are upset about our children learning some parts of our history. I say we should let kids look at these records (and other documents) and then challenge them to think about what they are reading. The way history was taught to me in school was boring. Names of presidents and dates of battles and yada, yada, yada…If I had been taught in a different way…learning about the people as real people I could relate to, I would have learned so much more. White kids looking at Slave Schedules does not have to lead to them feeling guilt because they are White. But, perhaps it could lead them to a better understanding of why their Black peers can not “Just get over it.”
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”- William Faulkner
“No matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth.”- Martha Beck
*According to one historical source William was against secession because he did not think the South would win. He did not serve as a soldier. (From “Boeuf Prairie Methodist Church- A History -The Church- The People- The Community-1833-2008”)