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You are watching: Stories passed down from generation to generation

From the British and also Gaelic bards, come the Griots of West Africa, to the stories about lineage that we flourish up hearing from our family members members, oral heritages are few of the oldest and most constant ways of happen down details from one generation come the next. Sometimes collection to music or composed in poetry, these backgrounds are often preserved in culturally far-reaching and distinct ways.Modern practice privileges backgrounds that are written down. We have tendency to think that oral backgrounds like we would certainly a video game of telephone, fearing the the story is altered each time it"s told until finally, the details is so skewed and glamorized that barely resembles the initial events. We doubt people’s memories and call into question the prejudice of ancestors. Therefore, oral backgrounds are commonly dismissed together unreliable historic sources, though in the unified States, it"s rare that details around most nonwhite or bad white american regularly show up in documentary evidence. Us fail to recognize that what is and what is no remembered can provide important information and context around the past and people"s individual and collective lives. descendant, Bettye Kearse in the cellar doorway that the Madison house. Eduardo Montes-Bradley. Courtesy that the Foundation.
At, we see oral histories as a an important tool to ensure the our translate of time and also place is accurate and also well-rounded. Us cherish the story that our energetic descendant community are ready to share through us about their families and also we usage those to guide our historic understanding and also interpretation. There is no them, big and important parts of our narrative as Americans room omitted.
Historians who research African American life depend on contemporary oral histories more than other scholars because documentary evidence of the individual resides of servants is frequently scarce and also unfinished. The last names of enslaved civilization were not commonly written in deeds or documents when they to be being bought and sold, and it"s almost impossible to discover a slave ship record with the names of the carry away West afri cargo. The names us are often contested due to the fact that enslavers stripped africans of their provided names and assigned them european replacements, or demoralizing and ironic name (like Kunta Kinte becoming "Toby" in Roots).

First name of slaves well-known to have actually lived in ~ as part of The Mere distinction of colour exhibiton. Proun Design.
The institution of enslavement systematically broke native Africans and also African american from your homeland and also their history, creating a void that, to this day, has actually been an overwhelming to bridge. Slavery attempted to piece African americans of their mankind to ensure enslaved civilization were not viewed as people with their very own lives and integrity, however instead seen as property, akin livestock or cattle. While some enslavers kept comprehensive records of your property, numerous did not, leaving huge holes in the historical record that we depend on other means (like oral histories), to fill.
Primary source file of slave names. Last names were hardly ever documented. North Light Productions. Courtesy the the Foundation.
While some failed come keep records at all, some of the records that did exist to be destroyed. The practice of burning files was common during the 18th century and also there room a variety of recorded burnings in ~ that may have included slave schedules. Unless the documents were understood important enough to be preserved, receipt of sale for enslaved human being were analogous to modern-day receipts and considered garbage. Even if enslaved civilization are detailed in court records, stories or accounts external of their name and also occasionally a physical summary are unlikely. Sometimes personal letters will certainly offer much more details or information around the lives of the enslaved men and women top top a plantation, yet these commonly belongs come an individual and are inaccessible unless they"re ready to do it public.

Oral histories are crucial because tracing an enslaved person and also their accompanying stories and histories v documentary evidence alone is frequently not possible, and when the is, can extremely difficult and time consuming.
Because that the dearth the documentary information around enslaved people, oral backgrounds play a critical role in informing our understanding of what their lives and also circumstances were like. They administer researchers with brand-new avenues of exploration, affix seemingly disparate information, or provide context come an currently document, and also can be supplied to reinforce, corroborate, and also inspire further exploration of documentary evidence. In the 1920s historians at Fisk University, southerly University, and Kentucky State University began recording oral backgrounds of previously enslaved people, as they would be the last generation to have been perhaps born into slavery. This accounts were quickly discredited through white historians, citing them as invalid or irregularity to then-current knowledge of slavery. Castle were largely forgotten till folklore together a self-control gained traction in the 1930s, through researchers choose John Lomax functioning to preserve the stories of ordinary world during the good Depression. The Federal functions Progress administration (WPA), Writers task employed several people to collection oral backgrounds of formerly enslaved people during the great Depression, and these ended up being known together the WPA servant Narratives. Indigenous 1936-1938, much more than 2,300 account of slavery were collected, bearing witness to the atrocities the slavery.

To this day the WPA servant Narratives are few of the most an important and informative sources on the college of slavery, even though we understand they room flawed. Numerous of the human being interviewed would have actually been children at the finish of slavery (as slavery had been denomination 71 year earlier), therefore a full conceptualization that the suffer was most likely lacking. Also, many of the interviewers to be white, thus the power dynamic and nature of the object likely led to a strong bias towards people being much less honest about feelings toward enslavers. Also though chroniclers are mindful that the raw facts of this narratives might not be 100% accurate, and there is little documentary evidence to corroborate, these narratives tho provide an important contextual information and insight into the atrocities and also complexities the American enslavement that would certainly otherwise remain unsurfaced. In enhancement to what is clearly revealed in the stories, we additionally learn from what went unsaid, and also how the compares and also fits right into the content of the documentary evidence.
At, ours decision to honor oral backgrounds is intentional. We understand the historical boundaries of record-keeping in the afri American community and the cultural importance of those familial backgrounds that will never make it into the record books. We use oral backgrounds from our descendant ar to item together events, lineages, and to much better understand what life was choose for afri Americans in Orange ar pre and also post emancipation. Our descendant community has shared invaluable information about property, landscaping, and also interpersonal relationships that help us far better and more fully understand, Orange County, and also African American life in central Virginia and abroad throughout the founding era.

Sign ~ above residential property denoting direction of servant cemetery. U.S. Naval Corps photograph by Cpl Timothy A. Turner."s rich oral histories provide us brand-new avenues that exploration and also teach us much more about and the bordering properties that we can find from documentary proof alone.
Our interpretation of slavery, reconstruction, and the Jim crow era relies on our descendants sharing their stories v us. Many people have been generous enough to share their familial stories about enslavement that have actually been pass on from your ancestors through time. Few of the descendants of those enslaved at operated for the duPonts as soon as they got the property, connecting several generations of oral history directly to With their permission, we usage their histories and experiences to directly inform our tours and interpretation, allowing us to current visitors through a fuller, an ext accurate American story.
* Train Depot. Depot is taken as a segregated space as the would have been during the Jim crow era. The Foundation.
Our interpretation of the Gilmore Cabin, throughout the street native the main entrance on Rt. 20, is a direct an outcome of Rebecca Gilmore Coleman sharing she family’s history with us.
In development of’s commemoration that Madison’s 250th date of birth in march of 2001, Coleman got to out to the foundation to inform them the the climate run-down cabin throughout the street.
The rebuilded Gilmore Cabin, Rebeca Gilmore Coleman"s family"s home, across the indigenous the Gates. Jennifer Glass. Courtesy the The Foundation.
One work while riding down the roadway with her father, he notified Rebecca that he to be born in the cabin, and that it had actually been built by his grandfather, George Gilmore, who had actually been enslaved at George Gilmore built the cabin on soil he had actually received after ~ emancipation in 1865. Generations the her household had lived in the cabin before the land to be bought by the duPonts. Coleman lobbied the structure to maintain her ancestral home and by law so, increased"s historic interpretation to encapsulate Reconstruction-era african American history. Without Coleman sharing she familial history, it"s hard to to speak if we would have had the same incentive to phone call this story with important ties to, and implications for, the background of the an ar and our nation as a whole.
Post emancipation, african Americans left Orange for other places, choose Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, and re-formed communities with human being they had actually lived near or been enslaved with. The story of these people, favor Madison servant, Paul Jennings, offers us understanding into familial and social relationships and also helps us much better understand how human being may have been linked in ways records can"t.
Paul Jennings, a previous slave, founder the the Foggy Bottom neighborhood near Washington, D.C. Courtesy the the Sylvia Jennings Alexander Estate/The Foundation.
Patricia McDaniel’s oral background sheds light on several elements of her family’s relationship to, Orange county, and Pittsburgh. Her ancestor, Benjamin McDaniel, to be enslaved by James Madison together a liverymen. Patricia describes a case where her ancestor won a suit against a white man during reconstruction, and in the Freedman’s Bureau, that is explained as "formerly enslaved by James Madison." In another part of McDaniel’s dental history, she shares a story around another one of her ancestors, Tucker McDaniel, that accidentally shooting a white man’s mule and also had to leave Orange as result of the danger of physical violence. He moved to Pittsburgh, and eventually brought several various other friends and also cousins with him. This connection to Pittsburgh, listed by McDaniel and also her relatives, triggered researchers come look much more thoroughly at census records in Pittsburgh throughout the at an early stage 1900s, and also found that several familiar names appeared in Orange and Pittsburgh, living close come one one more in both places. We were then able to tag people who left Orange and track their lives post-Emancipation: what they did, whereby they lived, who they married, etc. This seemingly tiny connection has actually led us to a riches of information, help us get a much better sense of neighborhoods that have actually formed and also bonds that have actually been maintained over time.
In the award-winning exhibition, The Mere difference of Colour, oral histories play a prominent function in the experience, and also can be discovered in all 3 of the interpreted spaces. In every section, progeny share stories of your ancestors and their own experiences and realities. Several of the story have straight connections come and surrounding plantations, while rather share the humanity, thoughts, and also feelings the the enslaved, transmitted orally throughout time and also space. Situating descendant dental histories straight into the exhibition ties together ancestral and descendant voices to produce a an effective and really narrative the augments year of documentary and also archaeological research. descendant, Margaret Jordan, tells a story of the enslaved in The Mere distinction of Colour. North Light Productions. Courtesy the the Foundation.
Oral histories pertaining come slavery have the right to be difficult to come by. Because that generations adhering to emancipation (and tho today), numerous African Americans are uninterested in pointing out two and a fifty percent centuries the oppression. They, instead, focus on the future, and also endeavor to move on and create much better lives for your families, placing distance in between themselves and the horrific trauma their ancestors survived.
Brent Leggs silhouette in the Madison house. Eduardo Montes-Bradley. Courtesy that the Foundation.

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Though often painful, these oral backgrounds are invaluable resources for the work-related that is done at They call us around people’s personalities, people"s lives, and also fill in gaps left by documentary evidence. The helps provide us get a much better sense of the day-to-day resides of the enslaved and also a deeper understand of the context of the documents we study. Oral histories provide us beginning points, guide our research, and help us discover the lacking puzzle pieces to make connections otherwise have not in the written records.