What Kind of Skeletons Are In Your Closet?
As we pursue family history research, sooner or later we all stumble
upon a "Skeleton in the Closet". Sometimes however, they are not
the kind that we were expecting.
I was reading through my the property deed on a house my parents
purchased in Northern New York State in 1954 when I came across some
startling language. The house was a small, 2 bedroom ranch on a
small neighborhood street with many similar houses.
The language was pretty standard, legal-ese I have come to expect
until I got to the "restrictions and reservations" section:
"...This lot is sold on the express covenant that it shall never be
occupied by a colored person, or anyone not a natural citizen of the
United States or the Dominion of Canada without first receiving the
written consent of the [seller]... These covenants shall run with
Wow. This got me to thinking. Discrimination against blacks has
been well-publicized and well-documented. I always understood that
immigrants had been discriminated against, but never with such
overt, legal mechanisms. I was used to the more shadow-y type of
discrimination, "sorry the apartment's already been rented" sort of
A couple of thoughts about life came to mind. First, I recognized,
I think even better, why my father, a child of an immigrant was so
driven to leave his ethnicity behind. He never spoke of such
matters. I suppose he wasn't very proud that he had to sign such a
document and wouldn't have wanted to talk about it. But we do the
things we need to do, in the times as they exist, in order to
survive and move on.
Second, my Grandparents were most certainly not free to live where
they wanted. They were able to buy a home in Rochester, near the
railroads and factories, perhaps a less-desirable section even then.
We sure have come along ways. I think many of us forget that it
wasn't that long ago that our families were discriminated against.
The Civil Rights movement wasn't just MLK and wasn't just about
It's easy for young generations to see discrimination as an
abstraction. When you find that skeleton in your own family's
closet, it helps to bring it to life. It helps to understand why
our ancestors did the things they did.
I would be interesting in hearing family stories or experiences that
you might know about how our ethnicities were discriminated against.