People usually keep things secret to avoid the danger involved in exposing themselves. Quite often, the person with the secret is doing nothing wrong but something that others don’t approve of. Throughout history, having babies out of wedlock was certainly one of those secrets. Having a bi-racial baby was an even bigger secret.
For centuries bi-racial marriages in America were forbidden. The Slave Code of Louisiana (1724-1803) prohibited “white subjects, of both sexes, to marry with the blacks…” and forbade “all our white subjects, and even the manumitted or free-born blacks, to live in a state of concubinage with blacks.” If there was an “issue” that arose from one of these “forbidden” relationships, the issue being a child born, that child was to be “adjudged to the hospital of the locality, and said slaves shall be forever incapable of being set free.” Wow, pretty heavy punishment. But guess what, those forbidden relationships still happened and look at us today. Bi-racial couples are everywhere, including on mainstream television.
If you’re working on your southern family history and you suspect there’s a secret, good luck trying to get the older relatives to speak up. As far as they’re concerned, that secret was buried and will stay buried. And those of us who want to uncover the truth? I think some of these old timers think… shame on us.
No one has ever given me reason to believe that my family history has one of these secrets but I suspect it does. I have questions that are unanswered. There are a lot of people in a three-hundred-year-old family tree and undoubtedly a lot of secrets. My hope is that southern hospitals are digitizing their old records because as the Slave Code of Louisiana tells us, look to the hospitals.
Suellen Ocean is the author of the Civil War Era Historic Romance, Black Pansy.
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