[ExI] yet another ethical dilemma

spike spike66 at att.net
Wed Sep 4 17:40:36 UTC 2013

-----Original Message-----
From: spike [mailto:spike66 at att.net] 

>...Since I have your ethical engines warming up, I have been presented with
another moral dilemma by 23andMe, this one much more complicated than the
one I posed a few weeks ago...Now I have a bigger problem, which will need
to wait until this afternoon, gotta run...  spike

Ethical dilemma posed by 23andMe

A few weeks ago a distant cousin contacted me trying to determine our most
recent common ancestor, something which is not at all remarkable except that
this relative is black.  She viewed Alex Haley's Roots miniseries as a
teenager in the 1970s, and became interested in genealogy, started doing her
own, specifically searching for former slaves, but came up empty handed.
Half of her ancestors were fairly recent immigrants from Africa, so they
were out, and the others who came earlier settled in New York and
Massachusetts, where they didn't have slavery, so it was looking like none
of the candidate 32 GGGgrandparents would be former slaves but she had some
candidates for whom she didn't have enough information to conclude with
confidence than none of their ancestors were former slaves.  She noted that
at family reunions, her cousins just assumed, as she had as a teen, that her
ancestors had been slaves in America, but had to later conclude that there
were few, if any in that category.  She chose to not disabuse her cousins of
these notions.

Many years went by, then 23andMe showed up.  She discovered she had some
European genes and went back to work on the family research.  She knew she
had one GGGgrandfather who was thought to be a malatto, white enough to talk
his way into the Union army in 1863.  She thought he is where at least some
of the European genes were coming from, and perhaps he or his parents had
been sired by a white slave owner etc, but she didn't have that information,
didn't know his parents names.  She had his name and family tradition of his
Union army service.  That name didn't help us in finding our common
ancestor, because that name didn't show up anywhere in my family tree and
none of the names in my family tree showed up in hers.  So no clues there.

The other half of the story is less pleasant.  Back about 1989 and 1990, I
was doing genealogy the old fashioned way.  I had a death certificate of my
GGgrandmother, which listed the maiden name of her mother.  I searched on
that and found a matching name, but it was from another state, Georgia.
This was the only reference I could find to that name, but I couldn't prove
they were the same person and had no explanation for why this mother and
this baby would have showed up in another state with no apparent family
members nearby.  I read the story anyway, in one of the paper books in the
Sutro library.  I will draw the curtain of mercy upon the details, but the
outline is as follows: the family I found which I had no direct evidence
were my relatives, had a nice farm in Georgia, but General Sherman's army
came through in November of 1864, brutalized the family murdering at least
two of them, destroyed the farm, wrecked and burned their farming tools,
took their stored food leaving them to starve that winter, slew their
animals, but one of the teenage daughters managed to survive being gang
raped.  She became pregnant.  According to the story in this book, she was
urged to give up her Yankee baby for adoption to a local black family, but
refused, and ended up leaving the area.

At the time, I recall wondering how the hell the locals figured that baby
would be better off being adopted by a black family in postwar Georgia than
being raised by a single mother.  It wasn't the baby's fault she was sired
by Union troops, but in any case, I moved on, for I didn't even know if
there was any relation there, until a number of circumstances arose
recently, such as my discovery of cousins on 23andMe from an area who traced
their ancestry back to this GGgrandmother with this name which matched the
single teen G^3grandmother from Georgia who had been taken by force by
General Sherman's men on their murderous march to the sea.  These cousins in
another state did not have in their family tradition anything about the
circumstances of their ancestor's birth, in fact they had nothing. 

This black cousin gave me the name of her mulatto ancestor, from which I was
able to find civil war service records, which verified that he was part of
Sherman's army in a division which was in the place where the Georgia farm
was attacked approximately nine months before my GGgrandmother was born.
The evidence is compelling: my own G^3grandfather was a Union soldier and a
rapist.  That explains my 1/64th subSaharan African ancestry.  The evidence,
if not conclusive, is at least compelling as all hell. 

So now, my ethics hipster friends, what do I do now? 

Do I tell my black cousin?

Or do I go to my grave with that information?

Or do I give the name of my G^3grandmother and let her discover this
shameful history on her own?      


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