Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy

Amistad. Nov. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780063028654. $27.99. BIOG
In this family history, White describes being a 13-year-old Black girl growing up in Washington, DC, when she learned the legend handed down by her great aunt—that the family was descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings—which White would spend much of her later life trying to prove. The Hemings lineage became clearer in later years, and as an adult White began to research her roots while also pursuing a career in journalism and enduring a rocky first marriage. White writes that the first time she toured Monticello and announced, “I’m a descendant,” she was met with uncomfortable stares. But she kept mapping the family tree with the help of a Monticello genealogist, met many other Jefferson and Hemings descendants (both Black-presenting and white-presenting; some helpful, some not), and eventually struck gold with DNA evidence and historic documents that proved that she was indeed a direct descendant of Jefferson and of Peter Hemings (Sally’s brother). White is now the community engagement officer at Monticello, fulfilling a lifelong goal to help tell the stories of all of her ancestors there.
VERDICT A brisk read that uncovers another side of the Jefferson-Hemings family tree; for readers of genealogy and the history of American slavery.
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