Sunday, March 9, 2014

391. Genealogy and American Historical Truths



                I was reading Leonard Pitt’s column in the Star the other day, and he was talking about the film “12 Years a Slave.” The column was all about the United States facing up to its past and making some long overdue adjustments.
                It occurred to me that genealogists are doing a significant part in creating those adjustments. Genealogy has an insatiable need for more data, and millions of genealogists pushing for that end is creating a huge market for businesses and individuals to fill that need.
                American history is very different from what it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when I was going to school. Most of what we were taught back then seems to have been hogwash. As millions of books and records have been digitized and placed on the Internet, we are seeing major truths coming out about our own past.
                About the only African-American we learned about by name was Crispus Attucks and then very quickly. Most black American were just “Slaves.” Native Americans were just savages, blocking the spread of American “civilization.” Most minorities were identified by slang terms that were definitely derogatory.
                This recent change was brought home to me about a year ago, when the Daughters of the American Revolution, that quintessential “white-bread” society, issued a new book, titled “Forgotten Patriots: African-American and Native American Patriots in the Revolutionary War.” Now that was an eye opener!
                Add to that the genealogy programs on TV the last few years that feature black celebrities tracing their ancestry, the growth of the Underground Railroad programs, and the numerous new databases featuring all kind of minority information. We visited Little Big Horn a while back and were astonished to see a large memorial section devoted to the Native American participants of that battle. No way would you have seen that in the 1950’s.
                Many genealogies have been and are being written about minority family lines; huge amounts of new information are coming out daily, much of it revising American history. Mr. Pitts is correct—this is long overdue and needs to be done. Thomas Jefferson’s slavery connection needed reviewed; the role of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War needed brought out; the mistreatment of all kinds of American Indian tribes definitely had to be spotlighted.
                Many others—the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navaho Code Talkers, the Japanese-American Combat Team fighting in Europe while their families were in American concentration camps, the Chinese who built the western railroads, the Hispanics who created most of the American Southwest.
                It’s great to see these folks take their rightful place as Americans, and I like to think that we as genealogists can and should be proud of the role we have played and are playing in forcing all this new data into the light. Keep up the good work!

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