I 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.