October 8, 2014

Warning! Opinion re Ken Burns Remarks on Finding Your Roots

Watching Finding Your Roots last night (I love this series) I was quite taken aback by Ken Burns comment that he was "more ashamed" of finding out he had a Loyalist ancestor  then he was of having a slave owner ancestor. 

Wow. What a terrible thing to say! Both sides - Patriot and Loyalist  (please don't call them Tories!) stood up for what they believed in and fought for those beliefs. It does not matter whether or not we agree with one side or the other, both sides should be respected and honoured for their strength and courage in holding firm to what they believed in. 

My Loyalist ancestors believed it was treason to rise up against the King. They suffered greatly both in their physical ways and financially with the loss of property. They were forced to flee the country they were born in to make a new life in Canada. Loyalists were responsible for opening Ontario and other provinces in Canada for settlement. They are as important to our history of our country as Patriots are to our American friends and cousins. 

Patriots likewise showed great courage in taking  a huge chance that they would win the fight. That took courage. They too suffered during the war. Both sides suffered atrocities at the hands of the opposing side. That's the nature of war. 

My own Loyalist ancestor was imprisoned and his wife and 10 young children taken from their home in northern New York, set the home on fire, and marched the family into the forest where they were left to die. Luckily Indians from Montreal found them and led them to Quebec where they were taken in by the British government as refugees. But do I bear a grudge against Patriots? NO! Why would I? Each side did what they felt was necessary.  There is not, nor should there be, any judgement on my part. Terrible things happened to individuals on both sides of the American Revolution.

I wish Ken Burns had shown a modicum of respect for the difficult choices his Loyalist ancestor made. I do not expect him to make the man his hero, but how about less judgement and less disdain for the Loyalist cause. His remarks left a very bad taste in my mouth.


26 comments:

Pam Beveridge said...

I'm with you! I'm sure he'll have some cringeworthy moments over this - at least I hope so.

Linda Stufflebean said...

I'm an American and have six ancestors who were Patriots and six who were Loyalists. I've always said that my family members stood up for their beliefs, whichever side they took and, yes, my ancestors had split families due to their beliefs. They all sacrificed for their cause. By the way, I belong to a well known hereditary organization today and have also held membership as an associate member in the United Empire Loyalists Assn. I totally agree with your commentary.

Diana Ritchie said...

What a contrast to WDYTYA when Rachel McAdams was told about her Loyalist ancestors - there were no comments about the "damn rebels" or anything. As you've said so well, both sides thought they were doing what was right.

I remember in a book club, eons ago, we read a book about the Revolutionary War. For some reason they picked another woman and I to "debate" and I was the Patriot side. Afterwards she asked me what side I thought I would have taken if I'd been alive. I told her I'd probably have been a Loyalist - I'm an oldest child, rule follower type of person. She laughed and said she thought she would have been a Patriot....the exact opposite of the sides we'd been "assigned" to argue. :-)

Anonymous said...

Lorine, I think you are being a bit hard on Mr. Burns for what was humorous comment. I appreciated the humorous dismay at finding a Loyalist, because I had only recently expressed to my mother that I was happy I had found only Patriots in our ancestry.

On the other hand, I appreciate the pride you feel in your ancestor who fought in the "other side" as it were. As I am likewise proud of all my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War--most of whom were small farmers and owned no slaves; they simply felt they were protecting their families and property.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Thank you everyone for your "take" on this. I like reading everyone's opinions, even those who disagree with me :-)

One thing though to "anonymous" who said Mr. Burns was being humorous. I have to say that you can (and should!) sign your name when you comment. I dislike anonymous comments. And I won't bite even if you disagree with me :-)

Second, it was very obvious that Mr. B was not joking. Yes when he said "Oh no a tory!" it was said with humour and a chuckle. But then he looked obviously upset and serious and that is when he made the comment I find atrocious - that he was more ashamed of his Loyalist ancestor than his slave owner one. That is not funny. And he did not say it with humour.

Yvonne Demoskoff said...

I was also surprised to hear Ken Burns's comments on finding out he had a Loyalist ancestor, Lorine. I don't remember his exact words, but didn't he say earlier in the show something along the lines that 'you can't choose your relatives [ancestors]?' If he did, then what an abrupt change of mind.

Janet said...

Sometimes I think they say what they think is PC. Do I like having ancestors that had slaves (yes, even in the north)? No, but it was history. I am not going to be shamed by it - or if I had Loyalists (not sure if I did or not) - at least no direct line Loyalists that I know of. Like some have said - they followed their beliefs. That is sometimes not accepted these days.

J.Rob. McGinn said...

I am surprised to read about this! My family knew we were of Loyalist origin but nobody knew HOW we were!! Self appointed 'family historian, I started into some serious research about 10 years ago. Naturally I started with McGinn Loyalist folk....Not US!!! Only in 2010 did I find a connection to the McGinns of Matilda Tp Dundas, Ontario.
That family was over from County Down Ireland in 1820. Our UEL connection was my Gx2 grandmother Rachel Shaver who married Daniel McGinn in Aug 1824, Williamsburg, Dundas, ANGLICAN.The protestant marriage may have caused quite a family ruckus? And maybe excommunication from the R C Church because Daniel had been educated for the R C priesthood!! Anyway I digress. Rachel Shaver was d/o Henry Shaver of Matilda (SUE), who, in turn, was the son of Philip Shaver and Elizabeth Antes. Philip joined the KRRNY along with 3 of his oldest sons and I his absence Elizabeth was booted from their prosperous farm with her younger children. She, with children, were forced to walk up L Champlain as it was too late in the fall-winter and freeze up had occurred. I am DAMN proud of my Shaver UEL connection!

Janice Harshbarger said...

Haven't we all found things about our ancestors that set us back on our heels, just because we were so surprised? Sometimes it means we have to rethink what we thought we "knew" or who we thought our ancestors were. I hope by now Mr. Burns has had some time to think about it, and has come to a better acceptance of the facts, but I don't blame him at all for his initial comments.

Lynn Palermo said...

Thanks Lorine, I commented on Facebook so I won't repeat my thoughts, only that I was equally taken back by his comments and appreciate your story which demonstrates quite nicely that both sides suffered hardships in defence of their beliefs.

J Calvert said...

I agree with Janice. It seems that everyone has forgotten that this is a show. Prof. Gates is producing a show, and he wants his subject to be surprised on the family facts he has found. I am sure Mr. Burns would have tempered his remarks had he a chance for a retake!

ruth lenover said...

I was so shocked when I head Ken Burns say he was embarrased and ashamed to have a Loyalist in his family. I immediately sent him a message voicing my opinion on his comment. I too have both Loyalists and Rev. War soldiers and I am equally proud of both. My father was Canadian and my mother an American. I hope he soon realizes what an insult his comment was 908to many people.

Michael Harris said...

I've never been a fan of his work. It always seemed that his stories were one sided.

My wife's 6th great grandfather was a Loyalist. It's an interesting story of what happened to him and his family.

Anonymous said...

Lorine, I posted anonymously, because it was the easiest option. I do not stay logged in to devices 24-7, and I do not remember passwords.

And I stand by my take on Mr. Burns' comments as "humor" in the moment.

Lee

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Lee thank you. I totally get not staying logged in to sites, but I do appreciate that you signed your name at the end of your recent comment.

It's a big pet peeve of mine when folks post anonymously.

Hopefully we can agree to have a difference of opinion on this one :-)

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

J. Calvert you could be right. But the "damage" was done and many people were left feeling insulted/disppointed -- you name it, we felt it.

Dana Leeds said...

I haven't watched the episode yet, but will be watching for this comment! I haven't come across any Loyalists in my family, but I sure don't understand comparing them to slave owners. And, yes, I had slave owners in my tree.

I also wanted to say that your Loyalist story is incredible! It reminded me of the episode WDYTYA. Amazing!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Dana - if you enjoyed my "tip of the iceberg" bit about my Loyalist ancestor and his wife, you might like to read the full story here

http://olivetreegenealogy.blogspot.ca/2013/03/womens-history-month-set-female.html

Jackie Lubinski said...

My Dorland/Durling ancestors were on both sides of the fence during the Revolution. Both sides had hardships, but the thing to most remember was that--either side-- they stood up for what they believed in. They made difficult choices that has to be understood in the context of the times. My UEL distant cousins were just as pioneering and brave as any of the settlers in the later USA. I am proud of my ancestors regardless of the situation because I am here now because of their choices.

Marina Dececo said...

I just want to add that, as children, we Americans were "spoon-fed" American History that was not completely honest. Once I began pursuing my ancestors I realized how much of our history had been ignored. We were taught that Loyalists were "bad" and American patriots were "good". I have ancestors on both sides, and like many respondents to Ken Burns comment, have embraced their courage to stand up for what they believed. I suspect Ken Burns just wasn't as aware of the true American history.

carl.h.bloss said...

We've all had our skeletons in our closets: get over it! His expressions were his feelings as he expressed them. I have the same feeling for Hessians who served in the Rev. War opposed to same family member who came to America. I don't hate or despise them, just accept them for what they did at that time. We, modern people, try to write into every expression by a "famous" person our own feelings Great, get over it and move on. Carl

mooregenealogy said...

My wife and I spent the better part of a week in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada this summer. We were researching my loyalist family that settled there after the Revolutionary War ended not as they hoped. Four of the loyalist grandsons moved to Maine and each served in the Union army during the Civil War. It all makes for great family history and stories. I am proud of them all. While I am happy things turned out as they did, at least my family took a stand. Oh, and yes I had patriots in my tree also.

Cynde Durnford-Branecki said...

I don't know, I wasn't all that offended. It was a knee jerk comment and I do believe it was done with a bit of humour. I'm rather glad that there's not a camera following me, but for the grace of God, goeth me. I had to laugh though because I'm from Brockville, Ontario so now I know where Tupper Street came from. His family was was one of the founders of the town. Oh the horrors of finding your past relatives are not what you thought they'd be.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mind KB's spontaneous comment one way or the other. Prof. Gates' intention is to elicit surprise responses for entertainment purposes and his guests know it too.

There's a great danger in identifying too closely with long-dead ancestors. Loyalists "stood up for what they believed in" which in reality meant whatever it meant to the individuals involved. You'd have to know them to understand what they meant by their choices and we can't really know them. In reality we should be careful about siding with them; our ancestors were very different from us in ways that would be shocking now.

They formed militias on an ongoing basis primarily to guard against slave revolts, not Indian predations or British bullying. It was common to kick your dog, whip your oxen and horses, and beat your children with belt and switches. They interpreted the Bible to be supportive of such behavior as well as of slavery. They drowned unwanted puppies and kittens and held idiotic superstitions. While I'd love to have a day to interview any of them I'm grateful none of them are my neighbors.

As for the Loyalists and Patriots, while I agree my history books were entirely slanted in one direction I've also learned that harsh treatment went both ways. My only Loyalist ancestors left NY for the Rideau Waterway, Quebec area and settled there well prior to 1776. Once the Revolution broke out they were thrown off of their farm, forced to give up all they owned and their land taken from them by order of the Crown. They too had to hoof it back to the Rochester, NY area in the winter. Next thing I know the old man is signed up for the Rev. War. Was it personal to this family or was it principle? I'll never know.

I am Diane Goodboe.

Liz Brown said...

I'm happy to see that I wasn't the only one taken aback by Ken Burns's comment. Other posters have expressed my thoughts and feelings about my Loyalist ancestors very eloquently, and also about the splitting of families. I'm surprised that Ken Burns doesn't realize that the Revolutionary War was indeed America's first civil war.
Liz Brown

Sallie said...

I'm more taken aback by what Prof. Gates chose to feature about Ken Burns. Ken's DNA matches that of my brother and cousin who are descended from Peter Burns who arrived in America in 1738 as an indentured servant to Col. James Patton. I worked closely with Prof. Gates's researcher concerning this connection. Instead of featuring the family that gave Ken Burns his surname, Prof. Gates chose to feature a very remote connection to Abraham Lincoln and a questionable undefined tie to Robert Burns, the poet, who my family is not related to. I've always wondered about the validity of these shows and now I know they are just that - shows for entertainment.