Do I really want to know? A relative sent me a story about my great (several times) grandfather who escaped from Elmira prison as a Confederate soldier. The escape was breathtaking and spellbinding to read. My grandfather...what else didn't I know about my family history? I've never thought about it too much; but the story took me over the edge of searching. I found a treasure trove of information.
On that side of my family, it is documented that they arrived in England as Vikings and there became landed gentry. One generation immigrated to the U.S. Their historical beginnings and subsequent generations are gleaned from public records of births, deaths, land transactions and some transactions I did not want to find, the purchase and sale of slaves. My relatives who immigrated to the U.S. carried on their land holding heritage, with large tracts of land in the South. They fought bravely for the Confederacy.
There are snippets of information here and there, the youthful marriages and large families. Many of my relatives are found in Texas. They are still mostly in the South. Me, I was born a Yankee. My siblings and I are the only Yankees in that side of the family tree. While it's all interesting, it's troubling to discover that slaves freed in the Civil War from our family's lands carried the last name of their former owners. Recent generations have re-discovered the family of their ancestors' enslavement. It's a strange reunion, the children of former owners and slaves bound today by the common last name and the glory days of the South, communicating by email as they each search for their roots.
My southern relatives always claimed they found more bigotry and hatred in the north than they experienced in their memories. The land owner and the adult child of former slaves lived on the same farm, bartering tasks and sitting together on the porch drinking tea. Their children had worked the land and left for wars and cities. The land was left for the old folks to rent out to new generations for grazing. In its glory days, it was cane fields and cotton and the company store.
Maybe, just maybe, the glory days are now. Drinking tea and sharing a last name seem surreal when the past is considered. However, the South has always been known for its gracious manners and hospitality. Bit by bit, maybe those pieces of paper that tell of my family's purchase and sale of slaves will also slip from my memory. Instead, I'll think about tea and last names that reach across the chasm to embrace a new day.
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