Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pearl Duncan / Home UK / UK - Pearl Duncan - 'My Scottish ancestors were heroes': "

When I started to look into my family tree, I couldn't have imagined the conflict it would cause. I spent 10 years researching my ancestors, and a lot of people didn't like what I had to say at the end of it. I'd tracked the cultural history that shaped my DNA in America, Europe and Africa, and discovered that not all white men in the British colonies who fathered children with black women in the 18th century were evil slavers. I found at least one ancestor who was an abolitionist and who did not abandon his children.

My family emigrated from Jamaica to New York when I was young, and I was always fascinated by where I had come from. My parents told me we were descended from the Maroons, or runaway slaves. Years later, when I went to our old family graves just outside Kingston, Jamaica, I couldn't believe it when I found our birth and baptismal records dating back to the 1700s.

I now know that my roots are incredibly diverse: I am descended from slaves; from free people who worked and bought their freedom; from Maroon warriors who waged military rebellions in Jamaica against slavery; also from British merchants, and European and African nobility" . . .

I've written a book about my research but publishers seem to think it's too contentious to publish. Talking about black ancestors who rebelled apparently goes against how Americans see these people - slaves were victims, not rebels. Editors are happy to accept stories about slaves who escaped one at a time, but they don't like the idea that they grouped together and stood up for themselves. That's too threatening.

I've also learned that many black Americans are afraid, as I was initially, of finding a slave trader in their family tree, so they don't really want to talk about their European ancestors. I got into trouble with my black friends for saying that John Smellie was a more caring man than many other colonials because he left a record of his child.

When you start looking into your genealogy, you have to come to terms with admirable and despicable behaviour, and that's what I've done."


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