Legacy Guilt.

Today I went to the Western History Workshop on Dr. Alice Echols’ work in progress project on her grandfather’s involvement with a Building and Loan Bank scandal in Colorado Springs in the Great Depression.  At the beginning of her presentation she brought up the problematic nature of mining family history for history narratives.  Past lives, like present lives, are riddled with tragedy as much as they are stories of success and triumph.

In my own personal genealogy research I semi-recently learned that my great great great great grandpa was a slave owner in Tennessee.  Most of his sons moved to Texas as young adults and remained there until their deaths.  The sons fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, while their slave owning father actually sided with the Union.

Thomas Crutcher Holt, one of the sons (and my ancestor) worked as an itinerant Methodist and Baptist preacher in the South.  His son Edgar Eugene Holt moved to southern Oklahoma.  And it was there in southern Oklahoma that Edgar’s son Andrew Holt, my great grandma’s oldest brother, ran whiskey during Prohibition in the 1920s and was shot down by a sheriff (and family oral history also says a U.S. Marshall) in a nighttime raid.

The Morning Tulsa daily world. (Tulsa, Okla.), 21 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Morning Tulsa daily world. (Tulsa, Okla.), 21 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042345/1922-01-21/ed-1/seq-5/

I don’t feel bad at all about having a Prohibition violating ancestor, though I do feel a little bad about having a slave owning gggg grandfather.  I’ve decided to call this legacy guilt.  It’s a non-monetary inheritance that you can’t really do anything about.  The longer I’ve known about it the easier it has been to reconcile that what an ancestor did is very much in the past, and what you do as an individual in the present is far more important than the actions of any one of the hundreds of ancestors that rotated around the sun before you.

Their actions had far reaching implications and greatly impacted the lives around them, but there is no remedy for that when you are nothing but an agent of the present.

If anything, learning more about the potentially negatives aspects of my family’s past illuminates a general history narrative that often feels generic and impersonal.  I’ve been pursuing information on the cultural context of my slaveowning ancestor in Tennessee and his sons’ move to Texas.  It’s been an exciting journey so far to try to understand the push and pull factors of their choices through the contexts of their lives.

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3 responses to “Legacy Guilt.

  1. Sydney Holt Groat

    I, too, am a descendant of Edgar Holt. Love your Blog. Would like to make contact with you. I have been told the story of the death of Andrew Bell Holt by my father. The story goes, that they shot the place up in the dark and then left. They returned, during the light of day, and found him dead.

    • Hi! It’s Mallory (which you might’ve figured out by now). I replied to the last e-mail you sent with a copy of the clipping and links to a few other newspaper articles. 🙂

      Sorry it took me a bit to get to this blog comment.

      • harry hands

        Mallory and Sydney
        My name is Tony Holt
        Andrew is my great grandfather.
        His son is Garmin Holt
        My dad is Weldon Holt
        According to my dad, Weldon. The sherrif opened fire because he heard a gun being cocked. Couldn’t see well… just a lucky shot. Andrew was a bootlegger. The guy with Andrew got away. Was never caught. My dad says it was Andrew’s brother in law.

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