Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Forgive; I am not my ancestors.

NPR has been writing this week about the Race Card Project, an effort started by Michele Norris to understand the American public's views on race. She explains that while on tour to promote her first book, The Grace of Silence, her "idea was to use these little black postcards to get the conversation started...I asked people to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity. Then I asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to just one sentence that had only six words...The submissions are thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, brave, teeming with anger and shimmering with hope..."

My ancestors included indentured servants, sharecroppers and slave owners. I've worked on my family genealogy for over 14 years and find both the goodness and harshness of humankind interwoven throughout the generations.

Today, I'm working on the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules. It's rather a grim and dark chapter of American history and not one of which I'm proud. But to sweep it under the carpet is akin to condoning the practice. And so as George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance."

Ancestry.com gives me two choices with the schedules: one, I can just print out the index proving that my ancestor indeed lived in the specified location and move on. Or two, I can sift through the card catalog and get the actual data: the number of slaves, their age and their race (black or mulatto). I ran across the schedule for William B. Dudgeon first.
1850 Slave Schedules, Casey KY

The Dudgeon and the Weatherford farms stood side-by-side in Taylor, Kentucky in 1850. William "Buck" Dudgeon and his wife Sophia (Silvey) Phillips owned five slaves: a 60-year-old black woman, a 17-year-old mulatto male, a 15-year-old black male, a 5 year old mulatto female and a 4 year old black male.

I know the Tuckers and Weatherfords lived nearby in Casey and so looked through those schedules as well. Abel Weatherford and his wife Frances Tucker only had one slave: a 21-year-old black female.

One of my uncles had told me that Frances Tucker, Abel's wife, had inherited a slave from her father Dandridge and that Abel didn't approve of slavery. The woman had been granted her freedom and stayed on as a housemaid. This story set a little better with me but I wanted to know more.

Abel fought in the 13th  Kentucky Volunteer Calvary, Company D: a Union regiment. His father, George Weatherford had twelve slaves in 1950; his father-in-law Dandridge Tucker had seventeen. One of those slaves was a 42-year-old black man; he would have been 8 years younger than Abel at the time.

Able mustered in on 19 November 1865 in Columbia, Kentucky and transferred to field and staff on 23 December 1863. He was honorably discharged 26 April 1865. He would have been 63 years old.

Also in his company was one George W. Tucker, a black man born in 1810 who mustered in 22 August 1863 in Columbia, Kentucky and was discharged 10 January 1865. It's not hard to put those two together, especially if George's middle name turns out to be Weatherford.

The 13th Calvary joined the 5th Colored Calvary in the Battle of Saltville. You can read more about this historic battle here (click).
I'll flag the Weatherfords, Dudgeons and Tuckers and come back to them in a later post.

Since I grew up without really knowing aunts, cousins and grandparents, I imagined them larger than life. Farmers. Inventors. Cultivators of the human spirit. What I found are just people.

And while I'd like to latch on to an exceptional granduncle and tell myself that I'm just like them and beam with the notion that living the life I do would make them proud and carry on some noble family name, the truth is that I am my own person. Not the Irish immigrant factory worker, the indentured colonist or the Ulster-Scot landowner. Not the Missouri sharecropper, the accomplished musician and not the slave owner.

I submitted a Race Card today. It seems to me that continually beating ourselves up over our ancestors' transgressions serves no point but to fuel the dark times. As a world nation, our goal should be to learn from our mistakes, to move on to a better place and to forgive. We are not our ancestors.

You can find the Race Card Project here: (CLICK)

And NPR's articles here: (CLICK)




Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tradition

I was never one for New Year's resolutions thinking that a resolution is simply the outcome of a personal continuous improvement process. I managed large departments and projects ensuring that continuous improvement processes identified defects, measured the effectiveness of the improvement and ensured the resulting processes were implemented as culture. But to measure success, you must first document the thing to be improved upon and so began 2013's Bucket List.
The Circumcision (Luca Signorelli)

I figured I'd start simply: handwritten letters versus email, go someplace new with Walt, paint something. I've refined 2014's Bucket List to be a more specific: handwritten birthday cards to my relatives, go someplace new with Walt outside the 50-mile ring encompassing NW Arkansas and paint the house.

New Year's celebrations began with the Babylonians in March. The Romans later changed the beginning of the new year to January, named for Janus, the two-faced god who looks both back to the previous year and forward to the new year. The custom of setting a new year's resolution began with the Romans vowing to be good to others. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the official religion, moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting.

The Catholic (and Lutheran) church replaced the early Roman new year's festivities with the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ: a naming ceremony in accordance with Jewish tradition where the child is formally given his name and then circumcised by the priest.

In contrast, the Puritans spent their time reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the year ahead. In this way, they adopted the old custom of making resolutions.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, took resolution writing to the next level penning 70 resolutions over a two-year period which he committed to reviewing each week. You can find them here (click).

My mother alternated between Catholic mass and Lutheran mass taking us to the latter for sacrament. I loved the ceremony and bells and chanting and incense and especially the stained glass and art adorning the walls and ceilings, and tried hard to keep up in my prayer book. But I don't remember any reference to circumcising a baby at New Year's mass. My guess is that when the church found parishioners partying with Janus and the Romans rather than attending mass, they revised their new year's service to focus on their commitment to treat their neighbors with charity and avoid habitual sins.

Three cheers for continuous improvement.

Thanks to Bill Petro (www.billpetro.com) for his article "History of New Year's Resolutions: Where did they begin."