Ancestor Hunger Miscellany

Stonehenge & ancestors debate, part 3000; animated faces of our ancestors; Morgan Jerkins on theft of sacred Gullah land; spirits in the work of Mira Jacob; and more

I’ve funneled all my Ancestor Hunger thinking and feeling and research into my book for so many years (almost seven) that it feels coy and boring to write posts around the edges. Maybe as the book moves into production I’ll get excited about resuscitating some of what I cut from drafts. But for now, as I finish up endnotes and bibliography and the last cuts and polishing, I’ll devote this space to related miscellany, in the broadest sense. It’ll be a mix of recent things and stuff I’ve mulled for years and wanted to include in the book but couldn’t fit in. A return to my old linky impulses.

  • The massive bluestones at Stonehenge came from somewhere else, possibly a stone circle in Wales. This discovery, in combination with isotopes from cremated remains found at Stonehenge, led the lead researcher to conclude that Stonehenge was constructed to commemorate the ancestors of the original people who lived there. (“Others are less convinced. ‘They’ve got a ragbag of stones and I’m rather sceptical of it being a stone circle.’”)

  • A friend who read my book draft, which discusses disturbing DoD-funded efforts to create mugshots from DNA, observed that My Heritage’s 2015 family photo look-alike contest was probably a family-resemblance data-mining effort. If My Heritage sounds familiar, they’re the company suddenly asking people to upload family photos to be “animated” with their “Deep Nostalgia” tool. As Maaza Mengiste (brilliant writer, and friend/another early reader of my book) says on Twitter, “Stop giving them photos to make dead people move…. They're using that information & it never works in favor of you or the rest of us.” Later she tweeted, “Every time I see a vintage photo of someone, I'm now terrified it'll move.”

  • In Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots, Morgan Jerkins investigates the legal theft of the land of the Gullah Geechee people, who, in 1869, owned half of South Carolina’s Beaufort County but have since had fourteen million acres of property seized through a system built around an individual property rights that discounts families’ collective claims over generations. The resort town of Hilton Head Island is one result. Once the “first self-governed town of formerly enslaved black people in the country,” the land has been been carved up into gated communities where wealthy white people vacation. Many sacred Gullah burial spots now lie behind barriers. Families have to pay entrance fees to honor their ancestors in person.

  • Have you read Mira Jacob? I love her work. The father character in her novel The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing starts seeing ghosts. When the book came out, she wrote an essay for the Telegraph about her parents' belief in unseen beings and how she eventually came to believe in them herself. And then, in her graphic memoir, Good Talk, one of my go-to book gifts of recent years, she and her dad have an epiphany toward the end of his life that he won't have the chance to meet her children. Years later, her son learns that her dad didn't get to read her novel before he died, and he has an idea: "How about we get all the pages and put them on the stoop and when a big wind comes it will blow them up into heaven, and then Appa can read your book and it will be beautiful!" "Dad," she says.

  • Conveniently, she describes a book I’m eager to read, Julie Klam’s The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters, cousins of Klam’s grandmother central to family lore: "This is the America I want to see — the one where four orphaned immigrant sisters can transform themselves into chain-smoking millionaires. Julie Klam's trademark wit and generosity make this family history a balm for the soul."

  • I’m also excited for Liz Brown’s Twilight Man, which is about her great-great-great uncle, Harrison Post, the onetime secret lover of a wealthy L.A. society man who launched the Los Angeles Philharmonic and died early, leaving Post “a substantial fortune—and a wealth of trouble.” Here’s Alex Ross’s tantalizing praise: “Some years ago, Liz Brown opened a drawer at her grandmother’s house and found a photograph that led her into a head-spinning real-life film noir: a tale of wealth, greed, corruption, fraud, lies, lust, and every other variation of the seven deadly sins, embodied in a gloriously grotesque cast of characters. Amid the mayhem, the shadowy figure of Harrison Post emerges as a phantom hero — charmed at the start, doomed by the end, and, now, resurrected by Brown’s spectacular, empathetic feat of storytelling. A thoroughly astounding book.”

  • If you haven’t read Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands—Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, consider the audiobook. Here’s a preview.

  • As I tweeted this week, I half-anticipate that I'll find another of my grandfather's alleged thirteen marriages as soon as my book goes to print. I’ve found ten. In the photo at the top left below he sits with my unamused granny, his fourth wife (that I know of).

As always, I love hearing your own family stories, and I’m sending all good wishes until next time.