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Southern Exposure
Did your ancestors make their stand in Dixie? The South will rise again in your famly tree if you follow these tips for getting started researching your Southern roots.
In the geography of our imagination, the South is as constant as a Moon Pie. Forever under fluttering Stars and Bars, the stereotypical land of cotton is a drawling amalgam of Gone with the Wind and “The Andy Griffith Show,” To Kill a Mockingbird and the Grand Ole Opry, In the Heat of the Night and Inherit The Wind, bound together with grits and washed down with a cool mint julep out on the veranda, y'all. In the popular mind, Southern history began at Fort Sumter and ended when the Dixie of George Wallace gave way to the New South of Ted Turner.

But if you go looking for your Southern ancestors in Tara, you're likely to be disappointed. The reality of the South is much more complex than those stereotypes. Indeed, if you try to trace your Southern roots back more than three or four generations, you'll find pioneers and Indians and families headed west — the frontier South of Daniel Boone, where the fever for land was hotter than Atlanta in August. Change was the constant here, with populations on the move and state and country borders melting like ice cubes in sweet tea.

I always thought of my maternal ancestors, for example, as being strictly from Alabama, where my mother grew up. But our family tree actually runs from Virginia to North Carolina to South Carolina, with off-shoots in Georgia, before becoming firmly planted in the red dirt of Alabama.

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