May 31, 2022

How Gayle Jessup White Discovered her Family’s Legacy

How Gayle Jessup White Discovered her Family’s Legacy

Growing up, Gayle Jessup White had heard that her African American family was somehow related to Thomas Jefferson. But it wasn’t until advances in DNA technology, along with methods pioneered by historians exploring the African American experience in the U.S., helped her uncover her direct link to not only Thomas Jefferson, but also Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Jefferson had had 6 children.

The result is a new book, Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And A Descendant's Search For Her Family's Lasting Legacy. If you are writing (or thinking of writing) about your family — especially a story with national and historic significance—this episode will have lots to say to you.


Growing up, Gayle Jessup White had heard that her African American family was somehow related to Thomas Jefferson. But it wasn’t until advances in DNA technology, along with methods pioneered by historians exploring the African American experience in the U.S., helped her uncover her direct link to not only Thomas Jefferson, but also Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Jefferson had had 6 children.

 

The result is a new book, Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And A Descendant's Search For Her Family's Lasting Legacy. If you are writing (or thinking of writing) about your family — especially a story with national and historic significance—this episode will have lots to say to you.

 

In this episode, we also discuss:

  • How truths embedded in her family lore helped Gayle to direct her genealogical research
  • How do you go about researching your ancestors, especially as an African-American
  • The complexities of America’s history of enslavement, as illustrated by the story of “Old Sal” – the enslaved woman, owned by the Jefferson family, who started as Thomas’s wet nurse, but later became his own slave when Thomas’s father died.
  • Writing in the “flow state” & more

 

Gayle Jessup White is the Public Relations & Community Engagement Officer at Monticello, and a former award-winning television reporter and anchor, and she’s documented her search for ancestors on NPR, in the New York Times, theroot.com, CNN, and other places.

 

Discussed in this episode:

Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And A Descendant's Search For Her Family's Lasting Legacy (HarperCollins Publishers)

A Black Descendant of Thomas Jefferson Explores Her Ancestors’ Legacy, NPR

Cousins, Across the Color Line by Tess Taylor, NYTimes, Jan 22, 2014.

Historian Cinder Stanton

Getting Word: African American Oral History Project at Monticello

 

Credits:

This episode was edited by Paul Zakrzewski and produced by Magpie Audio Productions. Theme music  is "The Stone Mansion" by BlueDot Productions.