August 29

The Real Family Tree

My head has been full this week of information I learned about my family tree. Both sides of my family arrived in the US prior to the Revolutionary War. Both sides of my family lived in the South. I learned that my very well-documented family tree on one side has been missing a branch. The branch that’s missing is because one white cousin had a black common-law wife and children resulting from this relationship at the beginning of the 20th century when this sort of relationship was illegal. For reasons I don’t understand, many family members knew about this but kept it secret.  Therefore this relationship and the progeny who resulted from it have never been included in family gatherings or noted on family documents, of which there are a multitude. I found this both shocking and unacceptable.

I learned in our adoption preparation classes that people keep secrets only when they feel shame. I don’t understand the need for such secrets. Presumably this relationship was one of mutual love, which is always OK with me between two single people. And by the way, I thought we decided in the 60s that in a loving relationship, race doesn’t matter. We have a mixed-race president after all. If you’re one of those people who says “Family is the most important thing in my life,” that should include the people who don’t look like you, share your faith, your worldview or your sexual orientation. I don’t think you have to enjoy the company of all of your family members but skin color, creed or sexual orientation should be irrelevant.

I’ve reached out to these long-neglected family members because I want them to know that I want to hear their story. I hope to hear back from them. Even if I never hear from them, at least they will know that I tried. Mostly now that I know of their existence I need for them to know that I’m glad they are part of our family. This is how healing between races happens. We need to be very clear: those rules that kept your part of the family apart from ours? Yeah, that was horrible. That was an unfortunate chapter of history and we want to move forward without barriers related to race, creed or sexual orientation.

I’m sharing this here because I’m not keeping this secret. No need to. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is what the American family looks like. Different races, different faiths, different ethnicities, different sexual orientations. Isn’t it time we celebrated diversity within families as opposed to keeping it secret? We will be richer for it. I promise. And if you are a descendant of John Leeds Avery, message me OK? I’ll bring a pie, we can talk, learn about each other and take the first step in healing what never should have been.