[Geder Genealogy has begun a series of 'Guest Posts' by African Ancestored genealogists, historians and cultural evangelists. Contact us at geder.genealogy(at)gmail.com if you would like to contribute.]
|Kathleen Brandt; Professional Genealogist|
For as long as I can remember I would boast, to any victim who would listen, about the African American Griffin and Morris families. I would share the family stories of my ancestor’s heritage, travels and other privileges, expounding on my slave-free ancestry, the black relatives who passed for white, the Indian blood I possessed, and the diversity of my family. To me, these stories were a reality of unproven truths that defined the “me” of me. I willingly accepted the family stories spun into epoch fairy tales that defied logic. Perhaps under microscopic review, 20% was reality but the other 80% was clearly muddied by the storyteller’s liberty.
I’m not sure why or how I became so enamored with the theory of a slave-free “Tobe” Morris family. I can only assume that being a “free-colored” was an anomaly, and somehow under-handedly explained my non-traditional family. Perhaps it was the pride in which these compilations of passed-down stories were told. “Tobe was part Indian.” Aunt Laura staked land in the Cherokee Run.” “Great-Grandpa Thomas had Indian head rights.” Maybe it was the fact that we were one of the few black families from central Kansas without the term “Exoduster” attached. But if you listened closely to my tales of a “slave-free” heritage, you would also hear my doubts, my questions, and the absurdity of the stories.
Uncovering the Truth
In less than two months of research, I came to some mouth-dropping realities. Tobe wasn’t Tobe, (his name was actually Wiley), we had no Indian blood, we were not from the Midwest, but transplants from western North Carolina and western Tennessee - Appalachia, and there was at least one Morris ancestor who was indeed a slave. As it turns out, those weren't even the stories to uncover.
Tracing my 1807 free-colored Rutherford, NC ancestors’ migratory path to western Kansas by 1884 is not a documentary of Exodusters through Kansas. It isn’t even a genealogical research of my Morris or Griffin family roots. It is, however, the story that challenges and defies the standard teachings of American history, erasing stereotypes and historical myths of formal education; forming a new and more vibrant reality. Visit a3genealogy African American Research.
Through genealogical research, I’ve walked with ancestors in their brave struggle for rights, and have learned there’s more to our past than slavery and lynchings. Court documents proved that more than one of my ancestors married in the 1860’s (and earlier). The Griffin’s owned land in North Carolina as early as 1811. A few owned slaves for what appears to reap economic gain, not just for freeing family. These facts introduced many unanswered questions: Why were most of the western North Carolina Griffin’s and Morris’ free-born? Who taught them to read before the Civil War? Why did they (like many free-coloreds and ex-slaves) change not only surnames but also given names after the War? Why did my Morris family choose to live in communities where they were the only coloreds? For more information on the Wiley “Tobe” Morris family, visit The Face of Genealogy.
Uncovering African American historical truths, validated through genealogical research using state documents, newspapers and political writings, offers a clearer picture of American history and our families. “When we honor the struggles and triumphs of our fathers and mothers, we honor the struggles of all families at all times in all places” (What is Genealogy?).
Kathleen Brandt, a3genealogy
Ms. Brandt has over ten years of experience in International genealogical research, documentation retrieval and research, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) document analysis, as well as family and lineage research.