The Enslaver in the Family

“…A great deal of human suffering exists because of the denial of the past and an inability to acknowledge and integrate it. But when the decision is made to finally look at and feel the past, everything shifts…Because historical traumas are human creations, most often occurring when one group victimizes and oppresses another, they do not end neatly or quickly. In many ways, conditions extending from the original group trauma can appear to morph over time, compounding in unpredictable ways.[1]Hübl, Thomas; Avritt, Julie Jordan. Healing Collective Trauma (p. 60, 75). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.
Thomas Hübl and Julie Jordan in Healing Collective Trauma

My paternal grandmother (deceased for 40+ years) told a story about an enslaver in her paternal branch. The story, of course, was typical of so many whites. He was benevolent and beloved. Upon emancipation, the enslaved people did not want to leave because they were just one big happy black-and-white family. Yeah, it was the archetypal story designed to make whites feel better at the horror our ancestors inflicted upon people of color.

My brother and I discussed this story when I visited last summer. He told me my 95-year-old father repeated this story to him. My brother challenged the feel-good narrative. Clearly, my father had reflected upon the story after their encounter because when he and I talked about it last month he was not accepting the tale at face value. We discussed how many newly freed people had nowhere to go after emancipation. We accepted that as whites we like to believe that our forebears were at least benevolent and beloved but that slavery was not benevolent by definition.

Until this week, I did not know with any certainty who among my ancestors enslaved people. No one living could tell me.

Following a white affinity sub-group session (there is a parallel for BIPOC students) of a global ancestral healing course (taught by Thomas Hübl) [2] that I am taking, I began searching the genealogical record in earnest to find the enslaver in the family. Simultaneously, I was motivated in my ancestral meditations to seek out the enslaver. It was and is emotionally challenging.

The blood of one who treated people as property flows through my body!

Genealogically I found the farmer from rural Kentucky who owned up to five people ranging in age from childhood to late middle age. The US census records in 1830 did not even offer the dignity of recording the names or exact ages of those enslaved, only age ranges. By 1850 and 1860, the census included exact ages but not names [3]Learn about Slave Schedules in the US Census at or through a web search. The genealogical work is detailed, unclear at times, and slow but I have learned much over the last several months.

The inner work of seeking, reflecting, and integrating the ancestral trauma and the blood of the dehumanizing one is challenging, unclear at times, and emotional. Entering my ancestral meditative state, I seek out the maternal grandfather I didn’t know in life. He functions as a guide and advocate. Grandpa Scotty is also one who himself is in need of healing. [4]I’ve written about him in previous posts. Recently, I’ve found my mother and my paternal grandmother offer significant emotional support. They also seem to be trusting of my motives to heal both forward and backward in time. The support of Grandma is relevant as it is her branch in which the enslaver resides.

Though I had a vivid experience recently, [5]See Squishy Hands & A Man Rolled into a Fetal Position. most of the mystical experiences of my ancestors are less easy to describe. That is, they are minimally visual and more kinesthetic and a knowing that inexplicably becomes. Seeking the enslaver who I now know as my third great grandfather, James Elisha Gooch, has evolved. At first, I simply refused to go there. Nope, nope, nope. Genealogical curiosity, ancestral healing, and slave schedules be damned! This is too fucking painful!

In time, I found the courage to perceive that familial branch. It began like an emotional, distant dark sky on the horizon. I would move a few metaphorical steps toward it, only to run to the arms of Grandpa Scotty and seek time there before giving up my meditative state altogether. Obviously, I have a well-constructed fog of stone (or is it flubber?) that pushes me away from facing this part of my lineage.  So, I pulled back each time and moved back toward my maternal lineage. The fog evolved into a threatening (?) dark, nagging cloudbank looming off to the side each time I sought to commune and perceive my maternal branch. But having poked the bear of the enslaver in the family, it looms over my work and journey elsewhere. Even my guide Grandpa Scotty seems to be telling me, “You gotta deal with that before we can continue here.” Well, fuck! What if I don’t want to?

Though I feel the love and support of Mom and Grandma (paternal), Grandpa Scotty is waiting for me to interact with the enslaving cloudbank that has become dominant and moved overhead. Like a severe thunderstorm in which conditions for tornadoes are present, the air is heavy and early raindrops have fallen. Genealogy is so much easier than this shit! And, so, this week I found the list of the unnamed people enslaved by my third paternal great-grandfather in the U.S. Census from 1840, 1850, and 1860. Unlike the worry of so many who seek to ban children from learning the truth of our American history of enslavement, I know that there is self-work and communal work to be done that requires knowledge, healing, and political decisions if we are to ever move forward as a people.

Looking at the list of people owned (!!) by my family, one the same age as two of my grandchildren, I feel the physical energy drain from my body. It is the draining one feels when experiencing grief and horror. I am drawn into a meditative state when confronted with historical documents that reflect America’s great sin in both personal and collective ways. Though I cannot yet perceive the one who enslaved, the sky is clearing and I meet my Dad’s beloved Granny. She emerges from the storm and exudes sadness. Waiting. Present. Together. In time, Granny confirms that the grief of her husband, my great-grandfather who shot himself, reflected the wave of generational trauma emanating from the time of the enslaver. Remaining beneath the clearing sky, I perceive the wave of trauma in my personal lineage as somewhat manageable. When I pull back, however, I see others in other genealogical trees. I realize we have all been flooded by the waves of trauma of American Slavery. As the water left by the storm continues to flow in like ocean waves even as the sky appears clear, we are all bailing buckets of water to avoid being submerged.

Though I have made progress, my journey is ongoing. Healing requires perception and the integration of our shared American history. I can hide from the shame, grief, and horror within me. I can hide from the personal and collective trauma but if I do we will not heal the trauma inflicted on enslaved people or the trauma experienced when denying the humanity of others. In the words of Hübl and Jordan, “The unresolved energy that I carry weighs me down and colors my experiences, preventing me from showing up fully in the present moment.” [6]Hübl, Thomas; Avritt, Julie Jordan. Healing Collective Trauma (p. 4). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.


1 Hübl, Thomas; Avritt, Julie Jordan. Healing Collective Trauma (p. 60, 75). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.
3 Learn about Slave Schedules in the US Census at or through a web search.
4 I’ve written about him in previous posts.
5 See Squishy Hands & A Man Rolled into a Fetal Position.
6 Hübl, Thomas; Avritt, Julie Jordan. Healing Collective Trauma (p. 4). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.

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