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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Louisiana Lamentations and Mysteries

I know painfully little about my family history, even for a Rainbow. I was thrown way behind timing-wise by my mother being the last child in a long string of pregnancies, at least 15 of which miscarried, and by my mother herself then having to endure years of her own natal mishaps before I made it through the chute, alive and kicking. By that time a lot of my antecedents whom I could've used being still around had already left this life, including all four of my grandparents.

The generations of my family that I know anything about first saw the light of day in Louisiana, a place that, long before Hurricane Katrina, was already weighed down in mystery and tragedy, with liberal doses of the occult thrown in. The recent despoiling of New Orleans by flood fits right in and cause me to liken that state to the pit of the nation's stomach.

My father was an orphan and was raised by his aunt. I know that aunt's first name and that his family originally came from the state to which I moved from D.C. 25 or so years ago, Virginia, thus unintentionally closing a circle. That's it on that side, period.

On my mother's side, her mother was the daughter of a Rainbow preacher in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Somehow she hooked up with a scion of a well-to-do family of Scotch-Irish-French extraction, and in 1888 they married and moved to New Orleans. So it could be that I have some distant relatives across the "color line" somewhere in Louisiana, and possibly affluent, too. They of course remain happily and totally unaware of my existence.

It hurts me that there's a tremendous family story there, yet I know almost nothing about it, though my several older relatives were balanced, alert, well-educated people who should have been able to tell me but for whatever reason didn't.

Think of it -- a clearly interracial couple with five children living in New Orleans during a period when Rainbows were being lynched in the Deep South at the rate of four a day, with New Orleans itself enduring a brutal race riot at or near the beginning of the 20th century. But all that was wreathed in silence. All I remember hearing is that my mother's father refused to eat at the table with his children and that he liked to sit on the front porch and insult people.

Two of my mother's three sisters didn't make it into my time, and the only pictorial evidence of them is a shot of a dog that belonged to one of them. The third sister and my mother's brother were still alive by the time I started approaching adulthood, but only till then.

As soon as they could, my mother and father eloped, and soon afterward they "caught the first thing smoking," to Washington, D.C. This was during WW1. After his wife died my mother's "white" father moved to D.C., too, to stay with my parents, till his death in 1927, four years before I was born.

Meanwhile my father traipsed around D.C. throughout the 1920's and well into the 1930's, taking great photos of the monuments, buildings, and a few friends and neighbors.. Without the tourists everywhere, the D.C. of his time looks strangely deserted ...but there's not one shot of his father-in-law, or of his mother-in law back in New Orleans. What happened there? Did my father take such family pictures, and later were they all destroyed, so as to shut off memories of painful times? My mother said that there was a family Bible with pictures, but by the time I arrived it had long since been lost.

Meanwhile one of my cousins thinks that it's no accident that my mother and all her sisters married dark-skinned men.

In an age of better medical care than most of her family enjoyed, my mother lived to be 81. My father had already died nearly 40 years earlier, in 1938, after thus having been afforded scarcely more than six years in this life with my sister and me.


Blogger andante said...

Carl, you'd be amazed at the information you can dig up with the help of the internet.

I have access to all the U.S. census reports (up to & including 1930). If I can look up anything for you, just let me know - andante_9898@yahoo.com.

If your ancestors left any sort of paper trail - census, marriage, birth or death certificates, owned land or left wills you CAN track them down - sometimes from your personal computer.

And you can just about be assured there is a distant cousin somewhere out there just sitting on the information.

10:51 PM  

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