I am an avid reader. I like biographies and history books. I can remember when I was in school at the beginning of the new year, taking my history book home and reading it completely within a week. No I didn’t have pocket protectors for my shirt pocket. So please keep that in mind when I tell you I have two books I wish to recommend. These books should be a great read, for any of us that have researched our family history. They both tell a story about who we were and are as a nation. Both books haunted my mind long after reading them. Also you will recognized the many steps in research that the authors executed to get to the fact that were hidden in these families.
The first book I would like to tell you about is Bliss Broyard’s, One Drop. Bliss was to find out just hours before her father’s death that he was black, that he had been passing as white for years. Her father had been able to do this despite his very public image as a columnist and editor of the New York Times Book Review. I can only guess at the shock and confusion that Bliss was trying to sort through. Growing up she had lived in the best neighborhoods in Connecticut and enjoyed an upper middle class life, with little interaction with non-whites. Bliss was to start on a journey to discover her family’s story. She would discover the 250 year history of her family. She would gain an insightful knowledge of her family, father, race relations, but mostly herself. Her experience is one that more of us may have, then would have been believed possible. The DNA testing firm that Bliss, used, found that 5 percent of people who identify themselves as white have testing that comes back showing some African ancestry.
The second book I would like to recommend is Passing Strange, by Martha A. Sandweiss. While this is once again a deathbed revelation, it is at the same time very different and rare, but also a familiar story. When James Todd a black Pullman porter and steel worker was dying he shared a secret with his black wife Ada Copeland. His secret was in two parts. The first being that he was not black, but a white man passing as black. The second was that his name was not James Todd, but instead was Clarence King, who was a very prominent scientist, author, and explorer. In fact for many years he had been living a double life. At a time when African-Americans hid their race and passed as white, King, a white man passed as a black man. He did this so he could be with the women he loved. While escaping the outrage this union would bring. In fact if his secret was exposed, his career would be over. King died in 1901. Ada was to live until 1964. This book tells their remarkable story.
In both these books you will see great genealogy research. The time and effort that it takes to discover a family and its history. You will see sources listed, and facts being checked then rechecked. The secrets these men held were personal, to be very carefully guarded. But in their telling we learn so much about race relations, social history, urban life, and American history. They are also a rich family history and that makes for a wonderful reading experience.