@Book{ williams2012a,
    author = {Heather Andrea Williams},
    title = {Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery},
    address = {Chapel Hill},
    publisher = {University of North Carolina Press},
    year = 2012,


  • “The book places emotions within a historical context” (2)
  • Answers call of painter2002 to attend to “interior lives of African Americans” (3)
  • Evidence about emotions felt by those who endured family separations “appear to fit into what may be called a universal model [of human emotions], but local restrictions sometimes limited their expression,” thus straddling the “constructionist” and anthropological camps on human emotion (4)
  • Relies on African American testimonies, even those “evidence often comes in small bits” (4).
  • Breaks from earlier Frazier, Moynihan, Gutman debates by not trying to explain later family dynamics in light of experience of slavery. The goal (much like that of Walter Johnson in “On Agency”) is to understand the lived experiences of separation: “to get inside separation to see how it came about, to take notice of enslaved people’s awareness of impending loss, and to see how they prepared for it, how they attempted to stave it off, how they grieved over it, and how they worked to reverse it” (11).1

p. 11-12:

… despite painful losses during slavery, large numbers of African Americans continued to invest emotional capital in creating new families as well as finding those whom they had lost. … most people continued to care. … But … not everyone survived the emotional torment. … Not everyone was strong and resilient, and certainly no one was strong all of the time.

  • Particularly striking is “how so many African Americans were able to create new families—marry again, have children—while at the same time keeping an emotional space for those whom they had lost” (12).

p. 122: “ambiguous loss” – a term used by psychologists to refer to “a disappearance in which those left behind or those taken away remain unaware of the whereabouts or status of loved ones.”

p. 149-50: Hawkins Wilson story

  1. Makes me think of Henrietta Wood and her efforts to persuade Gerard Brandon to allow enslaved women to bring children with them to Texas. Also of the story of Prince related by Sarah Wadley.