Family Secrets in Black Families


So many things are kept secret and locked away for generations. I’ve become more interested in my family history and I’ve become curious to find what my place in society is…where has history led me and why am I where I am? Being African-American can make it very difficult to trace my roots beyond a certain generation. I pretty much can trace back to my great grandparents generation and then after that, it’s as if all history has been erased or…avoided. It’s worth noting that before my great grandparents generation, I am on the brink of slavery. Meaning, that my paternal Great Grandmother was the daughter of slaves…the first free-born Black in the family. I don’t know much about her, except that something happened to her mother. Something terrible and my great grandmother was urged to pass for white. My Great Uncle told me that someone in my family was sold away to where we currently live (in the upper south) from North Carolina. Does this mean, half of my family could still be back in North Carolina?

These are all the pieces of history that go beyond the third  generation that precedes my own. I feel like my family is filled with secrets. Why would my great grandparents or my second great grandparents keep such painful secrets to themselves? The only thing I can think of is they didn’t want their children or grandchildren to become bitter…they wanted to have better for them. I look back to my days of childhood where I lived in oblivion, I truly thought history was irrelevant…but it was strange that history caught up with me one day. You can’t help but look in the mirror and wonder how you got here. When you are refused a job based on your skin color…history catches up with you and you wonder what am I truly doing here. How could I have been brought into a place where my very existence is such a contentious issue?

I guess all I can do is focus on what I do know about my grandparents and parents…their accomplishments. I know my Grandfather worked hard to earn an education to give my mother a better life and my mother passed her desire for education onto her children. I know faith in God was very strong througout generations in my family. I have faith in God, I believe that is ultimately what held us together when we had nothing else. I guess there are always going to be secrets. But…I can’t but wonder.

Do you ever feel this way, like there is just a blank in your family tree beyond a certain point?

If this post seems fragmented it’s because I don’t fully understand my family history and beyond a certain point, it is just fragments.

5 thoughts on “Family Secrets in Black Families”

  1. My family too has many secrets. My grandfather would rarely speak of his parents or his childhood, (especially his mother). I remember all of us kids talking and we would ask “Granddaddy what was it like when you were little?” He’d say, “Oh you don’t want to know about that. You have so many other things to think about. Don’t worry yourselves with such things.” I’ve never forgotten that.
    However, in speaking with my mother when I grew up, she said her father (my grandfather) never spoke of his mother, but did occasionally speak of his father (my grandfather). My mother said he would have a dark gaze about him every time he was asked to recount something from his childhood. Unfortunately, she never learned much of her father’s younger years.
    With the little information I had, I too embarked on a genealogical journey. I found my great grandfather, grandmother, and children on two census reports and nothing before that. However, after those two census reports the family just seemed to disappear, or so I thought. The next census report I found (along with other information) my grandfather and his brother were in another household. After asking older relatives if they knew these people, I found out that they were cousins. From what I understand, something had gone awry and the kids were split up amongst family members. What happened? Nobody living knows or is willing to talk about. Whatever it was, was lost among the dead and with it went any hope of a deeper knowledge of our family history. So I am at a loss when it comes to my history.

    I have spoken to court houses in Arkansas requesting to make an appointment to comb through old slave records, deaths, and births (which most deaths and births weren’t recorded back then), etc. (which I was going to organize as a vacation) and was told that the building that housed the “Negro” records had burned down several times over the past 200 years and they didn’t know how much information I would find, if any. After much thought, I decided I had one of three choices:

    1. Take an ancestral DNA test which would shed some light on our lineage.
    2. Take what limited information we have learned about our ancestors through family members, ancestry research, etc. and create some form of pride for future generations to come. Of course, this would be skewed to some degree because based on the circumstances, information would be missing or incomplete, but at least family members to come won’t be at such a disadvantage.
    3. Start history from today.

    I have decided to go with option 1 and am currently awaiting the results. I want to be excited, but I’m afraid to be. Researching my family’s history has been such a disappointing and daunting task with the lack of record keeping for black people that I’m not looking forward to another let down.


    1. wow great comment. Hitting walls is hard. it makes me feel like i have no history past my great grandparents and i know that’s not true. Did they seriously say “negro records,” in this day and age to you? I never thought about combing through the public records, I would have to go to the state that my grandmother was born in to recover those records probably.


    2. Hi Chanda,

      How long does the DNA take?
      I started working on our family tree a few years ago, asking family members and also not getting pass my grandparents. So far I got up to the 1870, I thinking of doing this DNA cause I want my sons to know more.


  2. Your thoughts and questions concerning your ancestors and the empty spaces is cpmmon among all people regardless of where they live or came from. Black slaves and white indentures lived and married. I often point out that Ebonics is not too distant fron the English that the Irish still speak today. Mixing was more common than some people would care to admit.
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr did a fine documentary on his search and the searches of a few celebrities. He found that all slaves were sold into captivity by tribes such as the Ashanti in trade for European goods. He pointed out that the myth of the Great White Hunter capturing slaves was thrust upon us bllurring history. (Whites couldn’t last a week on the continent because of the malaria and other local maladies.)
    I can get back as far as my grandparents and when they arrived in the US, but before that is a mystery.
    Don’t worry too much about where you came from, just dance to your own music and smile your smile as bright as it will shine.
    We are attracted to each other for many reasons (similarity, difference, common interets etc). Don’t waste time searching for who you are , just be yourself and be comfortable in the choices that you make.


  3. I feel the same exact way im finding out now that im mixed with african, native american, and white. My great great grandfathers and great aunts took the skeletons of secrets to the grave and im frustrated.


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