Genealogy and Anti-Racism [edited title]

+16 votes

I've edited the name of the document from "Genealogy, Race, and Being a White Ally" to "Genealogy and Anti-Racism." As mentioned below (and in the document), I appreciate constructive feedback. 

I hope that the document's name change will better reflect its intention: empowering descendants of white ancestors to use our personal historical studies to create a more just world. Genealogy can thus positively shape the future, rather than reinforcing systemic and historic injustice. 


Hi Wikitreers! I am passionate about working for racial justice, so I wanted to make sure that I do genealogy as a white person in a way that does the least harm --- and hopefully can do some good.

I created the following document for people who identify as white who want to learn how to act in anti-racist ways while doing genealogy:

Genealogy and Anti-Racism 

Please read the link and then let me know if you have further additions or corrections!

asked in The Tree House by Diane Kenaston G2G1 (1.2k points)
edited by Diane Kenaston
I can't say enough good things about this post! It's definitely a breath of fresh air. Keep up the good work!

Just looked it over ... I would like to add one more book to your collection of resources, The Inverntion of the White Race. Theodore Allen has done a great job of determining where the legal concept of White came from in the first place.

Color-blind is retro, inaccurate, and really a very poor descriptor for what you want to do here.

I would advise against its use...ever.
@GailConnolly:   You obviously heard the wrong story about West Virginia.  Nobody was "herded" there by anyone at all.  Most people in that region were for the Union, so Lincoln and his northern Congress unconstitutionally separated West Virginia from the rest of the state and "admitted" it as a state, so that Virginia would never be so powerful again as it was before the war.   MY version was learned in the public schools of Virginia.  I cannot possibly see where you learned your version, but it sure wasn't in the State of Virginia; in fact, I believe that you made it up.

     Kentucky is another matter.  The Governor was for the South, and both sides recruited for their armies heavily in the region.  I think the way that it went was that a referendum on secession narrowly lost, and the Yankees swarmed the state with their armies.  A lot of battles were fought there early in the war, and the North won the most of them.  One of my ancestors was in a Kentuckian Confederate cavalry unit.  I also had lots of folks on the other side as well.
Jack Day, you are wrong about part of your post.  Slaves in many states in the North were set free by state law during the late 18th century or the first half of the 19th century.

     For those of you who insist that "slavery" caused the Civil War, you should research very carefully the dates that slaves were set free in the North, and then you might better understand why the Southern States insisted that the war was about state's rights.
The debate about what led to and caused the Civil War is just that, a debate, and depending on one's perspective or position in the debate, a variety of factors could be argued and will be championed. That was true then, it is true now, and it is likely to always be that way.
@Yvonne Gammell:  ...and your point is....?
What part did you need clarification on?
This article gives an interesting perspective on freeing of slaves in the northern states.  But not all:

This article gives detail on how things played out in Maryland:

As for re-fighting the civil war in terms of who was right or wrong or why, or what the war was fought over, that is probably done best in some forum other than WikiTree.
1) See:  which gives the dates that the Northern states emancipated slaves. It might interest some people here to know that some slaves in Northern states were not emancipated until after the Civil War was over;

2) As for your comment, Jack Day, I see this whole question as being framed in a deliberately biased fashion towards post-Civil War Northern Triumphalism at the expense of history and against whites.  So if you want to keep politics out of wikitree, then keep all of them out, including biases against the Confederate flag, white slave owners, and Daughters of the American Revolution, all of which the question-asker deliberately slams.  The original slavers and "owners" of black American slaves were black African enslavers, who sold them on the open market in Africa; treat this fact, Diane Kenaston, before you keep going on about "white privelege;"
3) Black people definitely have the right to be here, and are welcomed by me.  I may not agree with them/you on some historical questions, but I do agree with them on some, including their right to be treated as humans and brothers, and not as property or "them"; white folks also have the same rights, no matter the historical realities.

 Picking at historical scabs does not heal them;

9 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer
I would like to request that this discussion be marked CLOSED and that no further comments, answers or replies be made.  I offer several reasons for this:

1.  This is a genealogy site.  We do genealogy as family members and historians.  If we stick to the facts and seek to be respectful of the people we profile, neither our own ethnicity nor opinions should make a difference.  All of us hit brick walls in our ancestry and the merit of a site like WikiTree is that we can pool our brain power and sometimes help solve someone else's brick wall.  This discussion, however, has veered quite far away from genealogy.

2.  Wars end, but writing about them probably never ends, and differing opinions about them will exist for a long time, if not forever.  It is not the function of WikiTree to resolve differences of opinion about any wars.  As a genealogy site, our main interest in history is how the history affected the individual people that we profile.  If John Smith died at the Battle of Vicksburg, that's what happened, it doesn't matter whether the Battle of Vicksburg was a good idea to the generals.

3.  The topic of race is still one that can engage emotions in the United States in 2017.  This discussion has reminded us of that, and that's useful, but it's time to say, let's stick to genealogy -- and whatever our ethnicity or emotions about it, let's commit to playing respectfully in the sandbox together in such a way that we all have fun!  

4.  The topic of slavery itself is a thorny one.  I'm aware of some genealogies produced in the last centuries, where, slavery having become an embarrassment, all mention of the family's slave-ownership and any documentation about their slaves was left out.  That not only creates a fake history, but it makes things more difficult for the descendants of the slaves to trace their own history.  So I think we have to acknowledge slavery and document it.  Because we know that ultimately everyone is related, today's descendants of slaves and slave owners are cousins.  That will create new sets of conversation topics.

But it does feel like this conversation has gotten personal and therefore needs to be closed.
answered by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (251k points)
selected by Gaile Connolly
As previous selector of Eddie King's answer as the best, because of the direction on which this thread has veered, I am now changing it - mainly because, even though Jack's answer is not at all responsive to the original topic, I believe it is important enough to ensure that it is at the top of the answer list.

Thank you very much, Jack, for this thoughtful and eminently written contribution!
If you plan to close the topic, then I would insist that the topic be entirely deleted from the site.

      What Diane Kenaston did was to politicize this site, with which the majority of the commentators fully agreed.  That's not even genealogy.  It's politics.  Genealogy in a pure sense theoretically cannot be politicized;  X and Y had children A, B, and C, etc. etc. etc. and that is as far as it goes.  The race of X, Y, A, B, and C is irrelevant to the question or the science.

      Where Kenaston is headed is for the biographies on the profiles.  She wants to act as the ultimate judge and censor, which from my standpoint she is welcomed to do on profiles of HER FAMILY.  But she wants to cast the whole half of the country in a sinister light, and this cannot be permitted by this site in any way without polluting it politically.

In her document, she implies that it is somehow bad for families to search for heroes among their ancestors.  I would disagree with that.  Families have the right to be proud of the heroic deeds and accomplishments of their ancestors to a certain extent.  It gives them a special connection with history when they understand that their forebears had an important role in it.

      I think everyone on here understands that black Americans have extraordinary difficulties in making their family trees, and that these difficulties arise out of circumstances beyond their control or the control of their ancestors.  I am happy to see wikitree making some special efforts to help them in their efforts.  I think it is quite unhelpful to inject a large dose of racial politics into the process and then claim that you are helping black genealogists.

      I think it is especially unhelpful if one uses the site as a platform to deliberately distort history as Gaile Connolly did with her West Virginia fairy tale version of history.  I think all Virginians have a right to vigorously call her out on this point, and to defend the history of the state and its people.

       No matter what anyone thinks of slavery, it existed, not just in the southern States, but in every area of the world, including Africa, where the original enslavers of American slaves, black coastal inhabitants, sold black slaves they had captured on to whites, who imported them into the western hemisphere.  Slavery was as legal as marriage. Slavery was not a particularly white invention. It was particularly egregious in the southern USA, and we should be happy to be rid of it.

      But there are right ways and wrong ways of doing things.  Jack Day doesn't mention it, but in Maryland, there was a bill introduced into the Maryland Legislature sometime before the Civil War to compensate slave owners for the emancipation their slaves It barely failed, probably because the compensation to be offered was a very small fraction of the cost of a slave.

One then could look on subsequent events as a curiously immoral exercise in morality,  when 800,000 Southerners were murdered so that Northern ship owners and slave traders could assuage their guilt without any compensation regarding property that they treated as property and sold as property to a competing section of the country.  How righteous!.  Most Southerners were not slave owners.

      Bruce Catton, the historian, who wrote a trilogy on the history of the Civil War, stated that the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation was actually a revolution by the North against the Constitution.  This is why it is important for people concerned about slavery to be aware that EVERY state was a slave state when the Constitution was adopted.  The Northern States looked at it as a moral question; the Southern States looked at it as a property and due process question.

     The North won, and it is better that way, but the question is not simply a black and white question either.

      Anyway, I think that if D. Kenaston is allowed to have her politics on the site, then the Ku Kux Klan and anyone else should be allowed to exercise the same right.  The better way, I think, is to let the Administration think up some guidelines and put them up here.  Genealogy is a branch of History, which itself is intertwined very much with politics.  Politics and History do lead to disagreements, but pure Pollyannaism is also to be avoided.
+5 votes
Good for you,I too have requested Wiki Tree too invite all people of color

too ask Questions,I have seen some increase in them asking.And have

helped all i have seen.It is tough too help them,not much is available

till after the Civil war.Unless they were free before.
answered by Wayne Morgan G2G6 Pilot (809k points)
reshown by Jamie Nelson
Thanks, Wayne. It's true that there aren't as many easily-accessible resources out there for people of color. But in my mind, that just makes it even more important that we help to make one's ancestor search accessible for all people. I'm glad to hear of the work you've been doing!
+17 votes
I find this whole concept rather strange. I am happy to help anyone and consider all of my matches equally regardless of origins.
answered by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (620k points)
My comment related to the original title of the post. The changed title does seem less provocative.
+7 votes
Diane, thank you for your passion!
answered by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (251k points)
I can't imagine why anyone would object to either Diane displaying passion, or Jack expressing appreciation of same.  I am - once again - appalled to see a -1 vote tally here.  I am about to get it back to zero with my upvote!
+18 votes
Deleted from discussion
answered by Eddie King G2G6 Pilot (360k points)
edited by Eddie King
Sorry to hear that you received that kind of negativity here, Eddie. I can't imagine suggesting that only people of European origin should be allowed to seek and find their ancestry.
Eddie, First I'm glad to see that you have accumulated some upvotes (including mine) and hope that number doesn't represent a decrease by any downvotes.  I can't imagine why anyone would flag your post - it is hardly inappropriate, nor is it offensive toward anyone in any way, so I'm glad to see that has not been done either.

Next, from what you wrote, I have the impression that you are black ... or African-American ... or "non-white" by whatever word may be socially/politically/whatever correct.  My only reaction to this is that everyone is something ... in fact, everyone is lots of somethings.  People can be grouped by labeling of many different attributes - race, religion, nationality, and heritage of any of these three are probably the major ones; gender is another big differentiator.  There are many, many others, though - fans of specific sports teams, fat/skinny, tall/short, married/single, lovers of veggies/junk food, city/suburban/rural lifestyle preference, ... I'm tired of typing and don't want to hit the 8K character limit.

Your example of a bigot who is anxious to prove he's not reminds me of something my father used to tell people - he'd say he's not prejudiced and follow it with the statement "my wife gives clothes to the shvartsa". I'm spelling that phonetically - I believe correct spelling would be something like "schwarze", German for "black", although my father's use would have been Yiddish.  At any rate, I grew up thinking that was the Yiddish word for "maid" until well into adulthood, someone educated me as to the meaning and also that my father used it in a derogatory way.

I can easily see why you find Diane's document offensive - in fact, I also feel offended by it, as I do by all attempts to single out any group (by whatever distinctions are used to form groups) for different treatment than other groups, for any reason (including a sincere attempt to atone for past sins perpetrated by one's ancestors).  I simply refuse to attribute any traits of anyone to their membership in any group, beyond whatever criteria is used to distinguish between groups.

Thank you for your input on this issue - I find it a breath of fresh air!
100% agree with you Eddie!
Eddie, I am sorry to have hurt you. I know that you don't want to say anymore here --- and I respect that. However, if you change your mind, I am willing to listen (via comments or message). Thank you for sharing.
Thanks, Eddie.
Thanks, Eddie.  There is nobody who belongs on WikiTree either more or less than anyone else.  We have a good forum here for people to post what they need to do their genealogy.  I hope you'll feel free to post whenever you spot an area where someone else might be able to help.  And I hope you'll look on all of us as friends.
"...skinny white boy..."..?

What's that all about, and why aren't people downvoting the post on that basis alone?
Because most of us understand what he's saying, Dan.
He's saying ".....skinny white boy...."   If I said "...skinny black boy....."  would he or most of you understand what I'm saying?
Deleted from discussion
My question is "Are either of you boys?"
Deleted from discussion
+4 votes
This is an interesting discussion and document, thanks for putting it out there!  I haven't gotten that far back yet but I do know that some of my ancestors were slaveholders.  It's good to have some ideas about how I could constructively address that when I get there.

I have also noticed, in my research, how many of my ancestors were very socially active - not only were they literate, educated, and landowners, they were very often members of political organizations such as local political clubs, committees, and pollworkers. It is striking when I think about exactly how much "know how" they had with regards to local government and civic institutions - and contrasting that with those at the time who may have previously BEEN property only one generation ago is striking.  Def. good food for thought.
answered by Crispin Reedy G2G6 Mach 3 (38.8k points)
+13 votes
Interesting collection of information you have there, Diane. It makes me a little queazy to think that this would be an issue at all in the search for genealogical truth.

I think the interracial concerns of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings are pretty much irrelevant in 2017.  I don't consider ethnicity or race in my genealogy research.  If a profile needs == Sources == and I can find them, I add them.  If I have information that will improve a profile, I add it.  I don't think race or ethnicity influence my research, and I only consider religion if it bears on the burial information (Catholic cemeteries, etc.).
answered by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (471k points)
I agree with your queasiness Kitty. I felt so uncomfortable with the way the first paragraphs in the document were formulated that I did not even bother to look at the reading list.
+3 votes
"Ally" has become a very political word (so I definitely understand some the response), but I welcome a variety of ways to build bridges.

I will say that I am happy to help anyone connect to any of my (our) ancestors. If you link to my GEDMatch or Ancestry DNA tests in any way, I would love to know how we are related. Reach out at any time and we'll talk.

Thanks to everyone who makes this whole WT project work and flourish.
answered by Yvonne Gammell G2G5 (5k points)
+3 votes

I only just noticed this now. Missed it at the time. It brought to mind an article an acquaintance of mine wrote some time ago.

Teaching about "race" in the US. Part 1 (to my knowledge, there was never a Part 2.)  She has pictures of her own family history, and how their "race" was dealt with in the Census, changing standards of reporting race in the Census over the years. Draws from material she teaches (taught? might be retired by now) about race in cultural anthropology in the SUNY system. Worth a look: it's remained in my memory for nearly a decade now!


answered by Elizabeth Winter G2G6 Mach 6 (65.7k points)

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