Who wants to admit their ancestors were participants in some of history's darkest events? It hasn't been easy, but I've accepted my ancestors with all of their flaws. For better or worse, they donated something to my creation.
I'm not always proud of them, though. I try to make the best of whatever they did by using the records they created to help myself and others move forward for the benefit of the next generation.
Just thinking of the Trail of Tears - the relocation of American Indians from their Southern homelands to what would become Oklahoma - makes me want to cry.
The Cherokee Indians didn't want to leave the beautiful North Georgia mountains, so local militia units formed to round them up, place them in fortified holding facilities and herd them west.
I was mortified to discover that my great-great-grandfather Isaac Tate was among the Cass County, Ga., locals who joined an armed militia group in his home county. I was equally elated at the genealogical jewels I found in his military pension application for service during the Indian Wars.
I still haven't quite come to grips with the reality that some of my ancestors were slave owners. Those who share a similar heritage should consider making that information public. It might be helpful information to slave descendants searching for their own ancestors.
'Heal history, not hide from it'
A few weeks ago I wrote about football superstar Emmitt Smith's reaction on the television series "Who Do You Think You Are?" when he discovered that his slave ancestors had been treated as property rather than people.
Luckie Daniels, a genealogist and blogger from Atlanta, read that column and wanted to share her experience. Back in early February, she posted a call to action for genealogists to share family slave data with fellow African-American researchers.
"Since that initial call to action, many wonderful events have happened!" Luckie wrote. "Descendants from both sides of the slave dynamic now know we have it within our power to heal history, not hide from it!"
Her experience spawned a new Web project: a digital repository for sharing slave data. Her Web site is AFriendOfFriends.com.
The site explains that it is "intended as a place where descendants of slave owners and other holders of slave-related documents can share that information with their fellow African-American researchers and family historians."
What a clever name, too, I thought, when I learned that the phrase "a friend of friends" was the password used along the Underground Railroad as a signal to those assisting runaway slaves.
There are many ways to contribute
Others also realize the importance of white researchers opening up about their ancestors. Another place to share and to search is AfriGeneas, www.afrigeneas.com/slavedata.
Those searching owners for slave ancestors will find it easy to browse the data by surname (left side of the slave data page). Those who have discovered wills and deeds in which ancestors bought, sold or bequeathed slave property can post the documents by clicking on "How To Contribute Slave Records."
There are three ways to contribute to this site: by completing a form online, by e-mailing transcripts as attachments and by postal mail.
One of the important aspects of genealogical research is to process documents as we obtain them. This means first making a transcript - an exact word-for-word reproduction of the handwritten document. Those who have been doing their research by the book already have transcripts in their files.
I had to spend only a few seconds using email to zip transcripts of wills from my files to AfriGeneas.
Luckie may be optimistic in her hope that these postings will heal or correct past wrongs, but certainly they will help fill the informational gaps for descendants.