We are the mules; we are the ones who carry the story.
~J. Mark Lowe, SLIG 2019
It's Monday. SLIG is over—at least for those of us who didn't opt to stay in Salt Lake City for a second week at SLIG Academy. Now that we're back home, settling into our own routine but desperately fighting to keep that resolve from class discoveries, those of us in the Southern Research course have already gotten our marching orders from class coordinator J. Mark Lowe: Carry the Story. Not only that, but we need to recall the urging of last Monday's plenary speaker LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson: let our genealogy research be a "force for social change."
One doesn't have to research their southern roots too deeply to stumble upon the reality of southern life: that way of life included large numbers of persons who were enslaved. Whether the enslaved or the enslaving were part of your genealogy, there are many descendants out there now, struggling with their research brick wall because they lack one detail: a surname.
The painful fact of the matter is that, while some are desperately searching for the identity of such ancestors as these, there are others who may hold the key to unlock the answer. Sadly, I've known I've been one of those who hasn't, up to this point, wanted to even face up to that fact. And yet, people like me could help be part of the solution.
I do have one particular story that has been shared in my family for generations. Pursuing that oral history may involve finding a book about one slave's life story. But there's one catch: I don't know the name of the person or even what the title of the book might have been. Worse, I'm not sure whether that story is a romanticized family legend or reality. I've wanted to research this story since I was a child, hearing the story from my mother. Now, years later, I'm no closer to knowing the truth than when I was in elementary school.
It will take a lot of exhaustive searches in an attempt to identify the man who told his story of growing up as a slave on my ancestors' plantation. Whether I even come up with the answer, I will sift through tons of data. There is no use discarding those discoveries, though; those facts which become rejects in my search might become answers for someone else. I need to share those details. I need to carry that story.
So, in preparation for my upcoming research trip to Florida, I'll share the story as I was told it as a child. I'll follow up by posting progress reports as I sift through the documents. Hopefully, even if I don't find the book I was told about so long ago, the process will uncover some hints that will lead another family history researcher past his or her brick wall.
Carrying the story means sharing the story. And sharing the story, hopefully, will help someone else find the family long hidden from view.