Book Review: ‘Reclamation’ Shows How Complicated It Can Be To Find Your Roots | Way of life


Sometimes you feel like a tree.

Like a standing sentry, you bend with the wind but you never break. Little children climb on you, and you receive them with open arms; your exterior is hard, but what’s on the inside is smooth and solid. Sometimes you feel like a tree: like in Gayle Jessup White’s new book “Reclamation”, your roots sprout from complicated soil.

Born in the early years of the civil rights movement, Gayle Jessup White was the youngest child of her parents by several years and for this she was spoiled by her siblings and especially loved by her father, with whom she was most. close. He was a civil servant who provided for all the needs of his family and they led an “easy” life; before White was born, they even had the means to provide a home for an elderly half-parent who would have been illiterate and simple, but who never lost sight of a belief she had.

“Aunt Peachie” swore that the Jessup children were descendants of Thomas Jefferson.

White was little when she learned of this possible legacy, but the details were incredibly scarce at the time. Yet she never forgot the idea of ​​being linked to our third president, just as she never forgot that summer when she learned about racism and discovered that her marriage was parents was difficult.

White grew up, went to college, and got a good job in a field she loved. She married, became a mother, divorced, and researched the details of her inheritance a bit, but with limited success. First her father died, then her mother, and White met a man she could spend the rest of her life with. All along, she dreamed of working in Monticello, the mansion that Thomas Jefferson built, the home of most of his slaves, but for years Jefferson’s white descendants had denied the very existence of the black offspring of the ‘man. Still, White told everyone about her heritage when she visited Monticello, until finally someone listened to her.

Finally, she had the possibility that Aunt Peachie was right …

How many times a month do you say “I wish I had listened to” any elderly parent who had stories to share? This family tradition is a precious thing, and “Reclamation” makes the ears open more urgent.

And yet, as author Gayle Jessup White shows in her book, finding the details in the details will not be an easy task. White overcame many obstacles that stood in his way to understanding, including a lack of technology at the start and general disbelief on the part of others; there’s also a side story of meeting a very distant cousin and the disappointment over it, which may serve as a very different warning to readers eager for warm, willing family ties that might never happen.

Yet none of this was a deterrent to White, who sports a certain perseverance in this memoir that genealogists, family historians, and storytellers will find appealing. If you, too, are searching for a hidden truth in your past, “Salvaging” can be a difficult book to leave.

“Recovery: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Search for a Descendant for Her Family’s Enduring Legacy” by Gayle Jessup White, 2021, Amistad, $ 27.99, 288 pages


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