APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2000-01 > 0947107019
From: "Mills" <>
Subject: Re: [APG] African-American research and Americans with African-American Ancestry
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 15:16:59 -0600
Marion Douglas wrote from the Balkans:
> I would really like to continue this thread on mixed- and cross-race
> research. It is at the heart of my own work, with no way to get around
> Responding to other replies, I have read Ed Ball's book, "Slaves in the
> Family". . . . The Balls also are in North Carolina.
Marion: The Balls of Ed Ball's book are not connected to those North
Carolinians. In fact, there's more than one set of Balls even in South
Carolina. Over the years, many people have confused Ed Ball's set with
others--causing DAR, at one point, to close that Ball line until the tangles
were adequately unknotted. (I did this a dozen or so years ago.)
As for Ed Ball's book, it's fascinating and inspiring. However, he was
neither a genealogist nor a historian; and he was too little aware of what
has been done in both fields--creating rather warped and/or naive
interpretations and social perspectives. Still, from the standpoint of
social relations and awareness today, he has done much good.
> I am in touch with Dee Parmer Woodtor, author of "Finding a Place Called
> Home" about her African American genealogy search. I would like to find
> some program that would sponsor her for an extended visit to lecture in
> France for a few months.
An excellent idea! But, alas, I can't tell you where to find money <g>.
> Who is Virginia DeMarce, what does she do?
Virginia DeMarce holds a Ph.D. in history from Berkeley and has been a
genealogist for nearly all of her adult life. She was for many years on the
national staff of the Association for State and Local History and has held
various positions in the National Genealogical Society, including one stint
as president. She is currently on the acknowledgment research staff of the
Bureau of Indian Affairs, in D.C. She's also a long-time authority on
>Has anyone read Virginia Dominguez' book, "White by Definition", which is
>about Louisiana families? She notes that some people (recently) have gone
> as burning down courthouses to try to destroy documents regarding their
G-r-o-a-n! Dominguez's work could use a lot less speculation and a lot more
proof -- something that tends to happen when authors (even academics) need a
lot more experience in the records they are trying to use <g>.
> I do wonder what the environment is like when one goes out into remote
> communities, or any with much history of race-mixture, and starts asking
> questions about families and their history. Makes me wonder about my
> reception when I get to the Smoky Mountains, to Madison County, NC, etc.
> don't want to step on a lot of toes, but I do want to know about my
Step cautiously, Marion -- but don't hold back. You might equate this to
Y2K. Prepare for the worst, enjoy the best. To my knowledge, the first
cross-racial family study published here in the U.S. came out in 1976 at LSU
press -- my husband's Ph.D. dissertation (Gary B. Mills, _The Forgotten
People: Cane River's Creoles of Color_). It's not a genealogy, although we
had worked for years on the genealogy of Cane River Creoles of all shades
prior to that. It's a socio-economic history; but he addressed the issue of
race-mixing frankly, giving the specific parental origins of each mixed-race
family, backed up by explicit source citations. He did so with considerable
trepidation, knowing that everyone who lived and wrote on that area for two
centuries had danced around the subject -- and knowing that certain vocal
locals had strong views and we definitely did not want to burn our
bridges -- that being the area in which we were then doing most of our
research. The only negative response we ever heard came, amusingly, in the
wake of a genealogical article that *I* published on one of those tri-racial
families. At the 1984 FGS conference in Salt Lake, someone came up to me in
the middle of the exhibit hall and told me how sorry she was to hear that
Gary and I had gotten a divorce! Huh? To shorten the tale, a distressed Cane
River matriarch of white complexion had put out the story that Gary had
divorced me because I had published an account of my black ancestry.
(Ironically, I don't even have ancestors in that state; and I can't even
find my alleged Choctaw Indian princess, much less an African one--though I
did find 19 Indian lines for Gary, whose family had no tradition of Indian
ancestry at all.)
All of this, of course, is a Louisiana perspective; and the stereotyped idea
is that Louisiana has been more racially tolerant than the rest of America.
Having lived in "Anglo" Alabama for 23 years and having spent most of my
professional life working Southern "Anglo" families, I can truthfully say
that -- in my experience, at least -- there has been far less difference in
the two societies than that stereotype would have us believe. Anglos in the
past were less *open* about racial-mixing; but they were no less
active--North as well as South. Even in the South, Anglos tended to wink at
mixed ancestry on the part of other Southerners if (1) they respected the
person; (2) the person was reasonably light-skinned; and (3) they were not
politicians who saw a way to cut down an opponent. I might also add that
Gary has spent the last 23 years studying mixed-race families in "Anglo"
Alabama, and has reached the same conclusions. In case you are interested in
published results from his on-going study, I'll cite a couple (the earliest
and the most recent):
"Shades of Ambiguity: Comparing Antebellum Free People of Color in 'Anglo'
Alabama and 'Latin' Louisiana," in _Plain Folk of the South Revisited_.
Samuel C. Hyde, ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
(Sorry, don't have page numbers, the book's not at hand.)
"Miscegenation and the Free Negro in Antebellum 'Anglo' Alabama: A
Reexamination of Southern Race Rela-tions," _Journal of American History_ 68
(June 1981): l6-34.
> Regarding mixed-race American presidents and others, is anyone familiar
> with the books of J. A. Rogers? I don't know what his professional
> background was when he was alive, but he was African American, very
> fairskinned, and he dedicated much of his life to researching race mixture
> in U.S. families and prominent whites, and I think some of his books still
> are in print.
His books are not taken seriously by most academics in the field. As you
will know from having read them, almost all editions were self-published. In
genealogy, that's a respectable tradition, because commercial and academic
presses have not been interested in genealogy until lately, and even now
aren't interested in genealogies of individual families. But in the academic
community there is a very strong feeling that if a work of history is
reliable, it will have passed peer review and it will have been published by
a reputable press. A reprint of Rogers's _World's Great Men of Color_ was
commercially published (posthumously, and by a minor press) in 1972, in
association with Dr. John Henrik Clarke (a very respected scholar in the
field of Black History), but Clarke edited it and added extensive notes and
>Many in the African American community had considered that
> President Clinton might be of African descent, through his mother,
> was her maiden name Gibson?
Dave Dearborn of NEHGS, who researched Clinton's ancestry for NEXUS, hit the
proverbial brick wall with that Gibson line in South Carolina. Those who
have pursued it are fairly confident that it *is* part of the tri-racial
>Too bad that in much of American society, serious discussion of
> credible speculation on mixed-race ancestry still draws sneers and
> And if racial background doesn't really matter, why do people refuse to
> about it or laugh it off?
Marion, I do think the situation is improving. Only twice, in our 13 years
of editing the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, have we consulted
with the society's president about any proposed manuscript. The first
occasion came when Virginia DeMarce presented us with the first of her two
articles on tri-racial Southerners (naming names, of course). Scholastic
journals are notorious for insisting upon "academic freedom" without
"political pressure" from the society that sponsors them; but at the same
time we felt a responsibility to the society to consider whether the
article might alienate a large segment of the society's membership.
Virginia, by that time, was a *past* president. The individual who then held
that office (a Mississippi native, to shatter another stereotype), said he
would leave it to us and back us on whatever decision we made. We ran it --
and, as with Gary's 1976 book -- we had no negative feedback at all. To the
contrary, we had quite a bit of positive feedback from genealogists working
on the Melungeons and similar groups who thanked us for bringing the issue
into the open. Many of them were aware of their ancestry, but were afraid to
openly mention it. For them, Virginia's article (and its successor) was a
> Finally, I am very interested in researching 19th century mixed
> marriages in North Carolina. My maternal 2nd greatgrandparents, Adolphus
> GUDGER and Matilda RICE, were a mixed couple, and so far I cannot find a
> marriage record for them, if indeed, they were married by law.
Ahh, Marion. A classic genealogical problem -- for people of *all* ethnic
backgrounds! The only advice I can offer is to study genealogical
*methodology.* Study every article you can find in which someone has
succeeded in overcoming difficult research problems. In this regard,
ethnicity, religion, or location is not nearly so relevant as the
*techniques* used for evidence analysis, for record interpretation, for
linking bits and shards of information that don't seem to be connected, and
for squeezing clues out of materials that a lot of people take for granted.
Immersing yourself in this kind of literature will put you into a different
mindset in which you will start thinking of all sorts of angles from which
you can get around that brick wall. Lots of records don't exist, everywhere.
Our challenge, as good genealogists, is to discover substitutes or ways to
"prove the case" using indirect evidence from many sources.
> Does the National Genealogical Society have a website? What does NGS
Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
Editor, National Genealogical Society Quarterly