When I think about my 2nd great-grandmother, Julia Linnehan Mitchell, and her disownment by her family, I am reminded of the stupidity of the concept of race. What we call race is nothing more than a social construct. The idea of separate “races” was one that involved people, who had power, who then created ways to differentiate themselves from others so they could subjegate them. Race, as we know it today, is nothing more than a political-economic entity that has been ascribed to people who look different from others. There is but one race and that is the human race.
My third Irish great-grandparents disowned Julia for marrying outside of her “race.” When her relatives came to my 2nd great-grandfather’s farm after her death, they had but one goal in mind which was to rescue her white-looking children by taking them away from their “colored” father. I often wonder why they felt the need to rescue her children. James D. Mitchell, my 2nd great-grandfather, owned a farm and a store and was quite well-off compared to others around him. He was a proud husband and father. Because of James and Julia’s forethought and preparation, all 6 children remained with James which was also Julia’s wish.
When I first found my third cousin M. Dawn Terrell, I have to admit, I thought she was 100% Irish-American. I was so excited to have found a link to my Irish ancestry so I just made that assumption. I also knew my Nana Fischer was smiling down on me knowing that I was able to find that which she lost. It took a couple of emails for Dawn to tell me that she was also multi-racial. LOL Initially, I felt bad telling her about Julia’s disownment especially when she was raised knowing her Irish-American side. I’ve gotten over feeling bad because I truly believe that we found each other because our ancestors deemed it to be. And so it was!
In all honesty, I have come to accept that our Irish ancestors were simply products of their times. As recent immigrants to the United States, they just followed the “white” social mores of the times. I don’t feel any animosity towards them. I only feel that they were the ones who lost more—not just Julia, but also all of her descendants.
Dawn and I have exchanged photos of our ancestors. When I look at her great-grandmother, Annie Linnehan (my 2nd great-aunt), I see the features of my grandmother. When I look at her grandfather, Louis Hirshson, I see a resemblance to my great-uncles, Frank and Charles, right down to the dimple in all their chins. I find it also quite interesting that two first cousins, Louis and James, were both Episocpal ministers in Boston at the same time.
We are family. We may have lost each other due to historical circumstances, but we are back together. As my hometown preacher says, “Amen, belongs right there!”