Advancing alternative histories

When you casually sit down with other genealogists, the conversation soon turns to alternative histories – not the ones you’re ever taught in classrooms or the textbooks, but the ones that real families encountered. It’s life viewed from the bottom up, rather than top-down. It moves the bigger, more public, picture to the background or gives details that pop the conflicts of the wider history into face-to-face struggles.

In the case of my Piedmont ancestry, both British and Continental armies marched through Guilford County and the Confederacy was just as intense for a people who had long opposed slavery. The mere fact that there were Southern yeomen who tried to buy the freedom of slaves is an alternative history you don’t hear in the conventional versions, much less the fact that many courageously refused to participate in the war. Nor do you think about marauding troops trotting off with their livestock and grain.

You probably didn’t know about the gold mines in North Carolina, either. I still want to know a lot more about the Hodgin holdings.

Discoveries like these help you appreciate similar perspectives from other families. As I said, this are the real-life histories that need to be known. They’re all too easily lost.


What has most surprised you in your own research? What stands in contrast to the general assumptions? What in your family legacy has changed the way you view history?

As I keep saying, doing genealogy is about a lot more than collecting names and dates.


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