Friday, March 29, 2019
The Dark Side of History
The strange disappearance of any mention of the names of the Stockton family in northern Florida, following the 1900 census, did have me stumped. When I went to the DNA conference last weekend, I took that question with me. At a point when I had a chance to talk with conference speaker Kenyatta Berry, I asked her that question. Why would all those people, from three different Stockton families, simultaneously disappear?
Admittedly, in researching family lines, we can run across tragedies spanning entire families. Florida being hurricane country, it isn't hard to imagine a poverty-stricken family seeing their home blown to bits in the gale force winds of such devastation of nature. Or consider the various epidemics occurring throughout our history, sometimes wiping out significant percentages of a town within a matter of months.
While such things do happen, there is another aspect that interjects itself into the history of the south—a darker side to history. While the end of the institution of slavery may have seemed a bright spot, it was followed by the politically unsuccessful Reconstruction era—along with, in its wake, subsequent rioting—and after that, the era of Jim Crow laws. Taking a quick read through the overview of historic events of those time periods can give a clear idea that the south was not a place to be if one looked like a former slave. Economic discrimination in the communities of the south was the least of an African-American family's problems.
When I asked Kenyatta Berry her opinion on why three of the families affiliated with King Stockton might have seemingly disappeared by the early 1900s, she had a few suggestions. First, of course, was that the family might have moved to the north. Better economic opportunity could come with such a move. Another variation on that theme was that the families might have moved from the country to urban areas within the same state, where there might be better offers of work.
The other possibility she mentioned was not as logically sterile. Could there have been a lynching in the area, she asked. While the time period might not have lined up with the dates when I saw the family seemingly scatter, I still had to answer in the affirmative. Yes, at one point, there had been such a tragedy. Perhaps that event was the tip of an iceberg of a societal chill factor, the impetus for the family to leave the area.
Coming to a conclusion on that research problem isn't easy. It could just be a matter of not finding the family mentioned in the records—another possibility I had considered. After all, what if enumerators—taking a head count for the precise reason of providing numbers determining representation in Congress—decided to slight the count for ulterior reasons?
All such conclusions can only be fed by a proper understanding of the context of the history of the time. Of course, it would be nice to find King Stockton's family names in the subsequent census records, but not being able to do so might be just the problem we need. It forces us to have to slow down and be alert to signals the historic narrative is sending us. We can't really understand our ancestors without understanding the times in which they lived. I'm hoping this detour sends us some strong signals to help pick up the story of what became of King Stockton's family.