February 2006 Bookshelf: Out of Africa

February 2006 Bookshelf: Out of Africa

Five social histories and narratives provide insight into the lives of your African-American ancestors.


 
1. Black Chicago’s First Century, Volume 1, 1833-1900 by Christopher Robert Reed (University of Missouri Press). If you have African-American ancestry in Chicago, you’ll want to devour this book from cover to cover. Written by a professor of history at Roosevelt University in the Windy City, the informative and comprehensive social history examines the lives of blacks who lived in northern Chicago. Reed explores black demographics, religion and churches, community organizations, emancipation, employment, education and more. The book is meticulously researched, well-illustrated and an absorbing read. The index lists numerous names-which might benefit a lucky researcher-and Reed’s extensive bibliography will give you ideas for further reading and research.

2. I Cannot Tell a Lie: The True Story of George Washington’s African American Descendants by Linda Allen Bryant (iUniverse). History tells us our founding father, George Washington, never had any children. Yet some people believe he fathered a slave son named West Ford. Bryant spent more than 20 years researching her family’s history, and claims this book is a narrative history-yet it’s written as fiction. For example, there’s no way the author could be privy to conversations she quotes from the 1780s. While the author lists some original documents in an appendix, the work is largely undocumented, and Bryant doesn’t present a convincing argument for the “centuries-old family secret.” Fictionalizing the oral tradition of this controversial legend serves only to discredit the claim and the author.

3. Malindy’s Freedom: The Story of a Slave Family by Mildred Johnson and Theresa Delsoin (University of Missouri Press). Oral histories often either fail to get passed down or aren’t recorded, causing families to lose precious parts of their heritage. Not so in the case of Malindy’s Freedom. Sisters Johnson and Delsoin, the great-granddaughters of Malindy, skillfully researched and wrote a compelling family history. Malindy was born a free Cherokee Indian and later enslaved in Franklin County, Mo. Her free husband was half-Irish, a quarter African and a quarter American Indian. This narrative uniquely blends a multicultural dynamic. Drawing on the recollections of their grandmother, who told them about her life in slavery and her mother’s life, the authors blend and support the oral history with research into historical documents. You’ll find this slave narrative to be an interesting read and a model for combining oral history with research.

4. Rooted in Place: Family and Belonging in a Southern Black Community by William W. Falk (Rutgers University Press). Although this book isn’t intended as a family history, Falk uses years of research on the rural South as well as oral history interviews with a black extended family in the Georgia-South Carolina low country to reveal a typical family who chose to stay in the Deep South instead of migrating North. This book focuses on a present-day family, but Falk also weaves a broader historical context into the narrative, discussing the roles of women, work, education, religion and race. You’ll discover interesting aspects of black families’ dynamics and the ways their heritage reflects on their lives today. Above all, Rooted in Place gives readers insight into the reasons some blacks chose to stay in impoverished areas of the South.

5. Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (University of North Carolina Press). While visiting a Point Coupee Parish, La., courthouse in 1984, Rutgers University professor Hall discovered a trove of historic data. Over the next 15 years, she uncovered the backgrounds of 100,000 slaves who were brought to Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries. From that research she created the Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1718-1820 Web site <www.ibiblio.org/laslave/fields.php>, a database where you can search for your slave ancestors. In her latest work, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas, Hall notes that although enslaved Africans came from several different ethnic groups, most of them derived from only a few main groups. Hall uses her data to show that slave traders often sold members of culturally similar ethnic groups into the same parts of the Americas, creating clusters of African ethnicities. This fascinating book is a must-read for anyone with slave or slave-owning ancestors.

From the February 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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