by Jocelyn Whitney
Blank lines, then columns checked with tally marks: M, F, 50, B. Line after line they face me, challenging me for answers my ancestors would not give them. A hole in my heart confirms what was long suspected. When your English/European family has been in America for over 10 generations, chances are you are a descendent of great evil and torment (and hopefully some good to offset some of such sin). Migration upheaves the peace, and the people follow precedent, zeal, money, and they survive, they bear children. I find walls created by my ancestors themselves, but most of mine are scalable, unlike that great wall created by those blank lines. What, then, can I offer the other descendants of those who survived what should never have been? What of those who were bound and sold, listed just before the oak sideboard and oxen team in the estate records? I can learn truth. I can search for preciously sparse information. I can cry to the world, “You were there, in Maury County Tennessee. At least three generations of people named Briggs worked you, enslaved.” I can find your names, call your names. Men there in 1831: George, Lone Sam, Dick; women: Nancy, Dolly, Malinda, Clarisa; girls: Sally, Margaret, Catherine; boys: William, Andrew, Samson; little girls: Mariana, Jane, Angelina. I will remember your names, filling in those blank lines. I will remember them along with my great-great-great-grandparents; we share this history.