Coming right on the heels of the AP’s foray into LDS genealogical records (prior post), here’s another triumph for genealogists today:
NEW YORK – Genealogists have found that civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton is a descendent of a slave owned by relatives of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Some of Thurmond’s relatives said the connection also came as a surprise to them. A niece, Ellen Senter, said she would speak with Sharpton if he were interested.
“I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn’t own slaves,” said Senter, 61, of Columbia, S.C. She added: “And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was.”
Jeesum. I bet there are quite a few native South Carolinians who’ll be surprised to learn that… particularly given the low proportion of people who actually held slaves. Could she be any more lost in the myth of Southern Aristocracy?
According to the newspaper, the genealogists found documents establishing that Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond’s great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed.
That would seem to mean that Strom Thurmond’s grandfather was a second cousin to Julia Thurmond.
Since the Daily News hired a couple of hot-dog genealogists to run these links (including the chief family historian for Ancestry.com), I have to assume they did their very best to hook Strom Thurmond as closely as possible to Al Sharpton’s ancestor. I’m sure they were disappointed with such a distant result.
Still — it’s interesting, particularly considering Strom’s views.
To me, by the way, this is the most interesting area of research in genealogy. Although it’s true that specific records (birth, death, etc.) were not well-kept by many slave owners, there’s frequently enough information in family lore held by a slave’s descendants that connections can be made via other records. Polimom has researched several clients’ families in this very way, and it’s fascinating to see which family stories are, or are not, supported by facts.
It’s a genuine genealogical triumph to be able to help link generations back to this level, and records sometimes yield further clues into the enslaved ancestor’s origins.
As long as everybody’s having such fun in genealogy land lately, though, I’d love to see some research come out about the ancestors of some of our more virulent white supremacists. Considering how mixed, racially, many families established in the U.S. before the Civil War actually are, I suspect there’d be some pretty amusing reactions by some of those folks.
Well… amusing to me, anyway….
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Update: WaPo has the Reuters version of the story. Evidently, a nephew thinks it’s a bunch of baloney, but he had no comment when shown the evidence.
Update 2: Al Sharpton is apparently going to have DNA testing done. Meanwhile, the AP has twisted the story beyond all recognition (via CNN):
NEW YORK (AP) — A prominent civil rights activist wants a DNA test to confirm genealogists’ findings that his great-grandfather, a slave, was owned by an ancestor of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, once a prominent defender of racial segregation.
Ummm… no. The ancestors of Strom Thurmond did not own Sharpton’s ancestor. Why is this so hard for some folks? Maybe a picture will help:
Meanwhile, some other Sharptons see things rather differently from their well-connected distant cousins. It’s probably worth noting that it’s a male from this line that will probably be tested for a DNA connection.