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The Reunification of an American Family
I have been researching my family’s genealogy for more than a decade now, and I was completely shocked and elated to receive a picture of my great-great-grandmother Laura, who was born around 1849. I look so much like her, yet our lives bear little resemblance. Archival records show that Laura Adkinson Campbell Singletary (G-G Laura) was born near Raleigh, North Carolina, yet she spent many years enslaved on a farm in Marion County, South Carolina, before the end of the Civil War.
G-G Laura, like more than two million other American-born enslaved people, was separated from her family by forced migration during the antebellum period in the US. There is no indication that she ever saw her parents or her siblings ever again. Sadly, the story of forced separation has affected nearly every branch of my family tree, some branches for more than 150 years.
In 2017, after getting my DNA tested, I discovered nearly 350 biological cousins who were matches, of whom I only knew 1 person. Within six months, the number of matches nearly doubled, and now, using a website that matches raw data across all DNA testing sites, that number has grown to include nearly 1700 people to whom I am related. Unfortunately, although we are biologically connected, we know very little about each other or the ancestors from whom we are descended, but I hope to change that.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, many newly emancipated people tried desperately to reunite their families. Some even placed information wanted ads in black-owned newspapers across the country looking for the whereabouts of their next of kin. During the years of Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau aided in the effort to help formerly enslaved people reunite their families, but in 1872, the US Congress, which included many former slaveholders, defunded the Freedmen’s Bureau -- only 7 years after its inception. This was not nearly the time needed to help families that had been forcibly separated for generations to restore their families. From 1872 until today, the federal government has made no other efforts to reunite families who were forcibly separated by US slavery.