Every so often you see something that eloquently expresses why you do genealogy. This short video (below) is such a piece for me. Titled "Half a Negro Boy named Coleman," it tells the story of Megan Smolenyak, Chief Family Historian at Ancestry.com, and her research into the ancestry of Al Sharpton and the terrible, wonderful, incredible experience it turned into.
If you can't see the video above, try clicking here.
Coleman, sold in halves as property! It makes me sick to my stomach. No wonder Smolenyak says that "Coleman is just screaming for his story to be told."
While lacking the pathos of slavery, I've felt the same sort of feelings as I have learned of my own ancestors. They want to be remembered. They deserve to be remembered.
If you've done genealogy long enough, you've felt them reaching towards you. Call it guidance. Call it luck. Call it inspiration. Call it serendipity. Call it communication. Call it supernatural. Al Sharpton called it destiny. "As I walked around where my great grandfather and probably his parents actually lived and worked, it gives you a real sense of destiny, that you had to find this. It's in your veins."
And as you reach back towards them, your life is enriched in unexpected ways.
"When you understand what your ancestors have endured and what they've overcome," says Smolenyak, "no matter what you're going through in your own life, I think it gives you strength. You realize…we all come from the strong stock. And when you learn about your ancestors and you learn what they really experienced and you bring them back to life in a sense as people, you realize that their fortitude is flowing in your veins and you've got the same capability. It's a very positive thing."
The effect on Sharpton and his fight for African-Americans was electric. "It has redoubled my commitment. I get up every day knowing that in my actual veins flows the blood of someone who probably wished the day would come that someone would do something about it."
We can all take lessons from our ancestry as Sharpton did from his. He noted, "we have an obligation to those that never had the options we have but held on so that we could exist. [Coleman] is my grandfather's father. It gives you a boundary in life. Because before you get too into yourself or too out of line, you start thinking, what would they think that we've done with the struggle. … Think about it every morning. It makes you operate with a certain discipline all day."
Reverend, I couldn't have said it better.
-- The Insider