Hard Conversations

A Family Tree Can Provide More Than Shade

wood-nature-leaves-tree.jpgI think most of us who succumb to the genealogical fever scramble to collect names and dates, and align them in some order.  Bits and bobs of family history hang from stout lines of inquiry, like leaves on a June sugar maple.

I want to spread a blanket over its roots, and linger in the shade of these ancestors, telling stories of prosperity and perseverance.  But when I look up into the Dodson-Rowlett-Green branches, I see what those leaves are blocking, what is providing the shadowed comfort of family tales.

The light of ingenuity and survival contains the stolen humanity of enslaved people.

I can feel their presence, though I may never know more than an age, sex, or first name.  And I feel impelled to reframe my family’s progress and reputation, to fully account for their choices and the impact that those choices had on their children, neighbors, community, and on the very ideals of a developing democracy.

I am climbing my family tree, again, adding leaves and uncovering roots that go well beyond my known kin.  I wonder what I will learn when I step out of its shade.



By Kay Strickland

I am a keeper of my family's lore, chasing after my ancestors' tales in south central New York, southwestern Pennsylvania and Southside Virginia. The stories and photographs that I share on this blog are my intellectual property. While I do my very best to provide well researched posts, I do not pretend to have reached genealogical proof standards. Therefore, much of this work is to generate conversation among interested parties. If you would like to share my work or my records, please contact me: dkaysdays (at) gmail (dot) com.

6 replies on “A Family Tree Can Provide More Than Shade”


I find myself consistently frustrated by how many people use “we can’t judge them by our modern standards” as an excuse to avoid _truly_ examining what it means to be descended from enslavers. Many people knew that slavery was wrong at the time, not the least of which being the slaves themselves. Abolitionists certainly knew slavery was wrong, and even some enslavers would go so far as to admit that the institution was rotten. When I refuse to give my enslaver ancestors an automatic pass because of “their times,” I am not judging them by the standards of my time…but rather by the noblest standards of their time. Which they did not live up to.

“I am not judging them by the standards of my time…but rather by the noblest standards of their time. Which they did not live up to.” Perfectly stated!

May I share your comment on my facebook post about this blog post, Margaret?

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