jefferson's blood
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Do you have a family story to share about heritage and identity, or mixed race relationships and love?

Dear FRONTLINE

There is an oral tradition in my mixed race African American family dating back to the middle 1800's. One of the stories I've been investigating comes from my father's side of the family. It is said that his grandmother was brilliant and the granddaughter of "a senator and a governor from Virginia".

One doesn't have to look far to recognize that there are few men who held that dual distinction. In my research, I have found only two. One, was Jefferson. Among the many unanswered questions arising out of the Hemings controversy one that should be asked is: Did Jefferson have a relationship with Mary Hemings, Sally's older sister and were there offspring?

Mary Hemings had at least one "bright mulatto" daughter, mentioned in a few historical accounts, who may have been sold to an Alabama plantation owner. If the story holds true, that daughter is my great great grandmother.

Trudy Taliaferro
San Jose, CA

Dear FRONTLINE

My heritage is part-Chinese, part-Spanish, part-this, part-that, by birth, Filipino - by nature, American.

When I asked my grandmother who made God, she told me not to worry about it or I'd go crazy...

I don't worry about the injustices during the 333 years of Spanish occupation. I don't worry about the depradations suffered by my Chinese ancestors at the hands of my Filipino ones. We all beat up on each other at some point in history.

So while it is an interesting exercise to discover one's bloodlines, deriving an emotional connection from some ancestral sorrow or triumph, to me, is of limited value.

To me, the important things are what I do Nnow for my family, my country, and my God. Must be my American side showing.


Virgilio Esquillo
Beverly Hills,, FL

Dear FRONTLINE

According to a small amount of research done within our family, we are decendants of the Robert E. Lee family...

I am a person of several races. White, Mexican, Black, Indian, but my color hasn't been diluted enough to give me "options". A co-worker told me not too long ago that she considered me a "light black" person and then nodded with approval. Americans are just plain color struck and ignorant.

With the recent confirmation of the heritage of the black Jews in Israel, with the relatively recent information provided by DNA, I imagine we are going to start finding out a lot of things. One of the most important findings I imagine we'll find is we are all related on some level...[as]Americans...

Whether you are black and white, Italian and Swedish, Indian and German, we are all mixed and no one race has any great claim to fame in the purity department. Guess what? There's nothing wrong with that.

Gail Huffman
San Diego, California

Dear FRONTLINE

I saw the story on Jefferson & Hemmings. My grandmother was a Pettiford and very light skin. I would like to get in touch with some of the Pettifords in Ohio. I am interested in finding out if there may be a connection, is there any way I can e-mail them. Thanks

Loretta Taylor
Germantown, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE


In early 1999, I received a phone call from Alberta Becker, from Bulter County, Parkersburg, Iowa, asking me if we were related and if so, she and her family would like to learn the family history from me. How she learned of me was through a German relative in Wisconsin whom I just made contact with for the first time last year.

Alberta mentioned that she had just finished watching the piece on Sally Hemings on Oprah. The problem was Alberta didnt know that I was black. I told her that I was the cousin of Oprahs best friend Gayle King. The light must have clicked on in her head, her reply was Im White, I answered, I know.

I knew from the very beginning that we were cousins, the potential problem was the issue of race. Her family were totally unaware about their black heritage.

This segment of my Iowa connection actually starts in the state of Wisconsin. My great grandfather, Francis Jeffrey, married a German immigrant, my great grandmother, Augusta Koss, in 1893, in Monroe County, Sparta, Wisconsin. Out of this union came seven children, three born in Winona County, Winona, Minnesota.After relocating to Iowa about 1900, four children were born in Scott County, Davenport, Iowa, one being my grandmother, Pauline Jeffrey. In 1916, both my great grandparents died of the influenza epidemic, six months apart, the state of Iowa took my grandmother Pauline, and her two younger brothers Theodore and Raymond and placed them in an orphanage. William and Eloise went to live on the Koss family farm in Sparta, Wisconsin.The others were old enough to go out on their own and remained in Davenport, Iowa.

Albertas father was born Albert Jeffrey, in Scott County, Davenport, Iowa, in 1915. Alberts mother was Florence Jeffrey, my great aunt, his father was unknown. In 1917, Albert was placed in the care of The District Court of Iowa in and for Scott County, Juvenile Division. The findings of the Court found Albert to be dependent, neglected, abandoned and homeless. The Court ordered that Albert be committed to the American Home Findings Association, in Wapello County, Ottumwa, Iowa. In 1918, Albert was adopted by Thomas and Mary Bell Pollock of Monroe County, Buxton, Iowa. Thomas Pollock was Caucasian and his wife Mary was mulatto. Thomas Pollock was killed in a mining accident in Buxton, Iowa, 18 February, 1922. On the 7th December, 1922, Albert was returned to the American Home Finding Association in Wapello County, Ottumwa, Iowa, because Mary Pollock had no means to care and support Albert after the death of her husband. At this point in Alberts life, he still had no idea of his true identity.

Albert married Naomi Osborn, in 1939, in Bremer County, Waverly, Iowa. After serving in the 132nd Airborne Division in World War II, Albert returned to Iowa to raise his five daughters, Beverly, Alberta, Sharon, Audrey, and Linda.

In an oral interview, Alberts daughters stated that their father knew nothing about his families past or biological mother. As a result, his daughters always felt a void in their lives because they had no link to their fathers upbringing. They stated that it would be great just to call someone grandma.

In 1981, in The Cedar Falls newspaper, The Record, dated Thursday, January,22, 1981, an article appeared titled Mother and son united after 63 years. The article stated that the five daughters, after watching Alex Haley on the Tonight Show, became inspired and wanted to try and find their fathers mother whom he had never known because he was placed in an orphanage at an early age. Johnny Carson was instrumental in the search of locating their fathers mother, Florence Jeffrey Kennedy, my great aunt, through the Mormons in Utah. Florence had been living in Detroit, Michigan since she left Iowa in the early 1920s. In the article, Albert said that he thought that he was Irish, Florence stated that Albert was pure German.

Well, that wasn't quite credible. Florences father, my great grandfather, Francis Jeffrey, was half black and half Indian. Three years after Albert and his family met Florence, she decided to disappear from their lives as quickly as she appeared. Albert and his family never heard from Florence again, whatever information she knew it went to the grave with her. Both mother and son are now dead, Florence died in 1988, and Albert in 1991.The question was why did Florence give up Albert for adoption? At this point, his daughters knew about as much of their fathers past family history as they did in 1981- nothing.

Now in 1999, it was up to me to educate them about their heritage that they all had the desire to learn.The question for me was how were they going to react to the fact that they were of mixed blood? I began sending them the history of the family through the mail and conversing on the phone, so that they would fully understand their heritage. The question of race was never an issue.

There were concerns and reasons as to why I shouldn't attend the meeting from family members here at home. I had come to far to turn back now. The biggest concern came from my father Edward Smith, he felt that it would be best after all these years to let the past stay buried forever. He
expressed that it might be rather difficult or a bit of a shock for our newly found relatives, who had children and now grandchildren, to come to the realization that they were of mixed ancestry. I could imagine how they might have felt, on the contrary, I had to go through the same process of re-evaluating who I was- namely my new identity, After spending my entire life thinking that my identity was solely black, I now had to redefine who I was. I have come to simply define myself and my family as the great American experience, my lineage is representative of what America has come to symbolize from its very beginnings.

The next step was that they wanted to arrange a meeting between me and themselves to discuss the family tree. The location was to take place in Bloomington, Illinois, March, 1999. One of the daughters, Sharon, lived in Bloomington, two of the other daughters Alberta and Beverly, along with their spouses, drove down from Cedar Falls, Iowa for the meeting.

The meeting turned out to be a great success, we spent the entire day eating and discussing our families roots. We also decided to plan a research trip to Minnesota. We took a trip this past summer to research libraries and to meet new relatives for the first time in Minnesota. It was the first joint research project we took. We returned from that trip with a better understanding of our common identity. Since our trip to Minnesota, I have returned to Cedar Falls, Iowa, along with my father to visit our cousins, he now realizes that all his fears were unfounded.We plan more trips in the future to further understand our past.

This is a clear illustration of how genealogy can lead us to people, places, and events in the past that we may think to be totally unrelated to our family history. Since 1915, my family was disconnected by one event caused by my great aunt, Florence Jeffrey, that changed the course of this family for decades. It took 63 years for Albert to connect with his mother, according to the news article, the longest separation in Iowa history. Naomi, the wife of Albert stated to me at a recent visit to Cedar Falls, Iowa, Its too bad that Al could not be here to meet his family, he would have been so happy to know that he was not alone in this world.



Eric Smith
South Holland, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE

When we mixed-racelook around us the most discrimination we seem to suffer is from our darker-skinned brothers and sisters. I got tired of trying to be "black enough" to suit them.

I am me - I cannot change my ancestry, but I can live a good and faithful life as an American. That is where we all should be.
All of our ancestors were not famous like T. Jefferson, but we are all in the same boat.

Vivian Crowson

Dear FRONTLINE

The various Jefferson programs on television have caught me attention.
Myself and my family going back at least 4 generations have considered ourselves as "white" American. Most of the family is from Nebraska however some are also from New Mexico.

My parents and I have been arizona residents for over 45 years. With the large recent influx of new arrivials to the southwest I have become aware that about one half of the "MEDLEY" listings in the metro Phoenix phone book are "black" Americans.

A "black" American who is recent arrivial to Arizona told me that in the urban eastern portion U.S he had never met anyone with the first name of "Royal"; my first name as well as my father who was not a "black" American. In addition he also indicated that all those that he had ever met in the east with my last name of "MEDLEY" were all "black" Americans.

I don't feel that any of the above info is of any threat to me as a person, however it does cause me to wonder about several issues.

Did some early American MEDLEY family own slaves who inherited the last name?
Is my MEDLEY family from a "black" lineage that chose to pass for "white"?
The real Question is does any of this matter to me in my daily life?

My answer is no because it is of no real use to me to worry about any of it, because for our family it has never been an issue.
I'm an American,

Royal Medley
oracle, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE

While watching the frontline special I saw the name of Ida Mae Young come on the screen dealing with geneology. My grandmother's name was Ida Mae Young. She would have been about 90.

She was always secretive about her family history. We did hear her admit to some Indian heritage. Even that was vague. I would like to pursue this search. Do you have any suggestions.

lldavis@voyager.net

Laura Davis
Columbus, IN

Dear FRONTLINE

My mother is white and my father is black. I was raised by my parents as an African-American. I thank them so much for doing that. I grew up in a black neighborhood, the black church and black schools not by choice but by force.

I was accepted in the African-American community not in the white community.This led to far less confusion when I was confronted with racism as I grew older.

Michael Costa
Sacramento, CA

Dear FRONTLINE

Wonderful about "Jefferson's Blood" is that, with each stroke in answering some already amazing questions, the program unearthed still other, deeper, more profound questions--some of which undergird all our lives.

Some time ago it ocurred to me my Italian heritage might indeed include African blood... Whoa! What would certain not-racially-unprejudiced family members have thought? What does it mean for me, no less? The prospect excites me, but why? And am I not still Italian? I sense such questions illumine mainly the sad limits of our current concepts: much like our lexicon of gender, we may not begin to possess an adequate language to render or embrace cultural heritage or ancestry. And I could cry: this brutally impoverishes us all, who lack words for even saying why.

Rick Bernardo
Minneapois, MN

Dear FRONTLINE

I too am a product of racial mixing. Most African Americans are.

I am an African American woman, and am frequently asked to identify my ethnicity. In addition to my African heritage, I have connection to my other ancestry. My Grandmother was a German immigrant and my Great Grandfather was a product of a slave woman who was 3/4 White and her English master.
One of the subjects in this documentary questioned whether her relatives were really black; because they were very white in their appearance. I would like for America to understand that to be Black embodies pride of heritage and culture independent of the color of ones skin.

This story represents such progress. I have hope that this country can continue to move toward revealing the truth.

Jill Quiles
Freehold, NJ

Dear FRONTLINE

I've sometimes avoided watching programs on mixed race relationships because of what's happened in my family. It's very depressing for me.

When I was a child, I had lots of "relatives". I'm now 50 years old and have only 3 "relatives" left. All the others that I knew growing up are now "white". Some live in the U.S., some live in Canada.

While watching the last 30 minutes of the program tonite, there was a statement that resonated so true for me. Which was basically, once one has decided to be "white", you must eliminate all ties with the relatives who are clearly "black" - - - for obvious reasons.

So currently, my gene pool of 20 or so relatives I had 40 years ago, has dwindled down to 3. Among those 3, one straddles the fence. For the sake of convenience, sometimes she's white, sometimes she's "other". The other two, like myself, simply cannot "pass". But there's some doubt in my mind, if they could, they probably would. "pass"

So, I'm the lone "black sheep". It's very depressing; especially during holidays when everyone's with their "families". Over the years I've concluded it's best not to dwell on it.


karen donotusemyname
washington, dc

Dear FRONTLINE

Only just now as I was reading this did it truly hit me that so many people would identify themselves and others by race.

Race has never defined who I am to myself, any more than the shoes I wear, and so this is to me a strange realization. I am who I am, not what I am, and I wonder now how I could be judged on any other basis. I have many different people in my history, including blacks, but it has no hold on my identity.

Dorothy Basili
Glenwood, Iowa

Dear FRONTLINE

I have hired a geneologist to research my Native American ancestry. Thus far, all records he has found list my great-great-grandparents as white, which all the "family lore" suggests is wrong. It was common practice for Indians to pass as white at that time, to prevent their land from being confiscated. Howver, it is very frustrating to have had their ethnic identity so thoroughly expunged.

I don't think the geneologist believes I have Indian ancestry, but one can look at my father and it's extremely obvious. The high cheekbones, dark eyes and skin -- he has classic Cherokee features. I may never know -- I understand the frustration of Jefferson's black descendants when they could not convince others!

Mary Jurmain

Dear FRONTLINE

My 5th great-grandfather, one of the first two U.S. Senators from KY, had a 30-year relationship, known to all, with a much younger woman who had been his slave. He emancipated her in 1799 and their children were born free. I've always felt they both sacrificed so much to be together: he left his white family and thereafter had no contact with all but two of those children and his political career; she gave up, I think, even more - her chance to live an entirely normal life. I believe they must have loved each other almost beyond comprehension.

Patricia Cooper
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE

As an African-American of multicultural heritage, I have aunts, uncles and cousins who have blue eyes and blond/brown hair. In less than 3 generations my fathers side of my family tree has darkened significantly. My grandfather could have passed for a white but in less than 60 years, I am a brown complected African-American. I would not be surpised if more Americans black and white found other ethnicities in their family tree if they searched. Perhaps some people are afraid to.

Harry Gaskin, IV
Lansing, MI

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