Thursday, September 25, 2014

Finding Your Roots #In Search of Our Fathers

Going into this week’s episode of Finding Your Roots I wanted to approach viewing the series from a different angle as I watch each episode. With many of the programs similar to this the central theme is based around the genealogy of celebrities.

I asked the question is this the element of the programs that make them successful? At the various shows core is basic genealogy that those of us who conduct research are familiar, nothing new! However there must be something that make these programs viable and have advertisers, sponsors and various donor foundations contributing what I have to believe are sizable sums of money to keep them on television.

With this week’s show “In Search of Our Fathers” the basics of genealogical research didn't change from one guest to the other and the fact that all were celebrities with different backgrounds the other thing that was compelling to their story in my opinion was the fact each knew very little about their father and until approached by Professor Gates, they didn't seem motivated enough to conduct research on their own to satisfy any curiosity they had on their father or their paternal ancestors.

This made me consider even more how much does this attitude pervade our society? We all have people in our own family who may not have as intense an interest in the family genealogical history and they go on to have “successful” lives without this knowledge.

Yet what we saw last night with the new found knowledge of their fathers each guess was emotionally touched by the information. What is it about us as people that we resist knowing our ancestors yet have in the back of our mind the need and longing to know that history that in many cases was never told to us as we grew up?

As a “family historian” I’m keenly aware of the various fields of study that go into thoroughly researching genealogy; census records, geography, law, computer science, graphic arts, photography, writing, research, library science and the list goes on with the many disciplines old and new that help me become a “good” researcher.

That should not be an adequate reason for these people to accomplish so much in their lives and still have that void of who their ancestors were and what their lives were like. Certainly we saw that lives circumstances made them gaining knowledge challenging.

It had to one of the major causes for Courtney Vance’s father taking his life, not knowing who his birth mother and father were? It had to wear on Stephen King that his mother did not mention his father after he left them when King was such a young age. With Gloria Reuben having a father who was elderly when she was born, she had to have felt robbed of his presence as a child growing up.


Despite all of the adversity of their childhoods all three thrived but clearly had a void that was healed just a little bit when provided with just the smallest bits of their father’s stories. So again, what is it that makes these shows, these stories so compelling to watch when all it is is basic genealogy?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Segregated History Day in Oklahoma

I was having a wonderful discussion with a colleague this morning concerning an upcoming event presented by the Oklahoma Genealogical Society. On the surface this would appear to be a nice event that is being supported by the state institution known as the Oklahoma Historical Society and the federal institution we know as the National Archives and Record Administration located in Dallas Ft. Worth, Texas.  

You throw in a little Ancestry.com as a supporter an active participant with some special emphasis on the so called Five Civilized Tribes and one would have a feeling that the history of Oklahoma and Native Americans has some significant to these institutions and deserve to have their unique history represented with tours, storytelling and some actual cultural events that represent the true history of Indian Territory as well the state of Oklahoma.

Clearly the events planned seem well thought out and with fees for the events, tours and various learning sessions; it is not an unusual undertaking unless you are a descendant of a Indian Territory Freedman.

As hard as I looked there was not one mention of the freedmen in the history of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory or the state of Oklahoma in any of the syllabuses for the weekends programming.

If the event is by a genealogical society for “Oklahoma” and they are using taxpayer institutions to conduct these events, why are not all of the state’s citizens being represented in this program and to the point, why not the genealogy and history of the former slaves of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians who seem to have a major role in the event?

It is almost like the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma Genealogical Society, Ancestry.com and the National Archives are participating in the perpetuation of a segregated history of the “Twin Territories” and the state of Oklahoma.

Clearly the freedmen have a genealogy and history that runs parallel to the five tribes because they were an integral part of the tribes from the infamous “Trail of Tears” to the Civil War, through the period before statehood and up to today, yet there is no mention of this history to the point that makes you wonder if the history of the freedmen is being ignored, marginalized or segregated from the true history and genealogy of Indian Territory, the Five Civilized Tribes and the state of Oklahoma.

Truly remarkable when you stop and think about it, when you see there is a session on the Dawes Commission records, it is a fact that a good portion of those records pertain to people of African and African-Native descent. How in good conscientious can these institutions and Ancestry.com fail to specifically include this portion of the population in this program?

What, do we have to do, conduct our own segregated program of bus tours and genealogy sessions to become a part of the history of Indian Territory and state of Oklahoma? Instead of calling it Ancestry Day in Oklahoma they should call it Segregated History Day in Oklahoma. 

At some point the tribes, NARA, OHS, and Ancestry will have to come to the conclusion, there were people of African and African-Native descent involved in this history and their story deserves as much attention as everyone else!

...or do we have to do it ourselves?