mistakes and mishaps

MY WORK ON Manning and Bird/Byrd has been a mistake. The notation “Ind” means indentured, not Indian, and “T. Ind.” means “total indentured,” not “Tuscarora Indians.” In addition, toying with the algorithm on Ancestry, as well as to test some theories, I have put hypothetical ancestors on my tree who were copied by other genealogists, without doing any of their own research. Therefore, I am responsible for erroneous information being circulated and recirculated, as we all play genealogical bingo. Mea culpa.

Genetic genealogy has created a rabbit hole of theories of relationships, linking common British surnames (Smith? Jones?) with kinship, and then linking that to various surviving historical records that contain the names of indigenous ancestors. What’s the appeal? Well, I think there is great interest in the “vanishing race” of the East Coast Indian, but also a historical narrative that badly needs to be reconstructed beyond the myths of extinction propagated in the 19th century (every week in the 1800s, it seems, there would be another death of a last Indian, this proud and noble race that, alas, could not keep up with white modernity).

In general, we know these things. We know there was colonial era miscegenation, especially in the frontier areas, and we know those fragments of “Native American DNA” matching reference populations from the Southwest, or some strongly indigenous phenotypes, that no European or African person has, is some evidence of this.

But we also are at the mercy of different kinds of new genealogical narratives. Some have pushed a new “free African American” reinterpretation of this period, others a “free colored” narrative. This is opposed to “whiteness,” itself a construct, and therefore the only liaisons in this new world are a) forced relationships between white master and free person of color or b) white women who bear the children of enslaved men.

Other kinds of relationships didn’t happen, and the one-drop rule was enforced rigorously from 1607 to present day.

These situations probably represent a majority of cases of miscegenation, but the trouble is they aren’t true. It’s a new narrative constructed to replace the others. Both narratives however are made up. Imagine this, you get a box full of old family photos. You don’t know exactly who the people are, but you begin to create stories about them, based on expressions, or who is in photos with whom. You can make a really convincing argument, based on some of the photos, but the truth is, if you weren’t there, then you just don’t know. This is exactly what has been going on with these new narratives. We are taking historical records, and applying modern-day ideas about race and identity to them.

And if you have mixed-race ancestors, then these kinds of retroactive historical narratives only confuse you. As I have shown, some people were white, black, Indian, and mulatto, all within the same lifetime.