How do we hold our ancestors close? We find meaning in knowing who we are and where we came from. In my family we sometimes spend hours looking at the few old family photographs we have, contemplating the faces of those who came before. The family tree comes alive when you can look into the eyes of your ancestors.
Genealogical studies can be more challenging for families of mixed-ethnicity, such as the Melungeons, or Redbones, or Pell Mellers, just to mention a few.
Historically, being perceived as "other" often meant you were denied the right to own land, vote, or send your children to school. Because of this some families sought to hide their history, sometimes destroying records and photographs. On top of this, factors like isolation and poverty meant the opportunities to be photographed were limited to begin with, making the photographs that do exist remarkable treasures.
The idea for this project emerged in 2007 while finishing my documentary "melungeon voices." Witnessing people share photographs and stories of their ancestors with such joy and pride moved me . . . I sensed that there were layers of meaning to find in photographing 'people and their people.'
I have since expanded the project to include more than just Melungeons. These works are dedicated to my parents Leland Benjamin Williams and Phyllis Gwendolyn Bolling Williams who instilled in me a deep intrigue for knowing 'my people.'
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