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Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family

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A chronicle of the history of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who were brought together in 1998 after DNA findings linked the two families' bloodlines. Photos. A chronicle of the history of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who were brought together in 1998 after DNA findings linked the two families' bloodlines. Photos.


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A chronicle of the history of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who were brought together in 1998 after DNA findings linked the two families' bloodlines. Photos. A chronicle of the history of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who were brought together in 1998 after DNA findings linked the two families' bloodlines. Photos.

30 review for Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family

  1. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    The perfect book to read following The Hemingses of Monticello. This book brought life to the idea that Sally Hemings indeed had children with Thomas Jefferson, and there are hundreds of descendants who claim this legacy. Lanier traveled over the country making contact with many of his family members he never knew before. There are some who refuse to accept that those who claim lineage through Sally Hemings also have that lineage through T. Jefferson. To do so is to deny the reality of slave cul The perfect book to read following The Hemingses of Monticello. This book brought life to the idea that Sally Hemings indeed had children with Thomas Jefferson, and there are hundreds of descendants who claim this legacy. Lanier traveled over the country making contact with many of his family members he never knew before. There are some who refuse to accept that those who claim lineage through Sally Hemings also have that lineage through T. Jefferson. To do so is to deny the reality of slave culture, the oral traditions past down and now DNA evidence. It is a problem to reconcile Jefferson's proclamation that all are created equal with his owning slaves. One of the persons who wrote about their family tradition traced back to Jefferson said it well, I think. Jefferson was a prisoner of his time. He did not buy slaves, they were part of his heritage, and he was bound by his culture. What is encouraging is that some descendants of both family lines have recognized that they are all of one family. The edition that I read is a later one than noted; so it covers three different gatherings at Monticello of those claiming Jefferson lineage. Lots of pictures and short articles written by different family members make this an excellent book for young adults to learn the history.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This book was interesting to read, given that it was written in 2002, very soon after there began to be hard DNA evidence that Jefferson fathered children through his slave, Sally Hemings. The way the book discusses this now fact demonstrates that back then, this very idea was still extremely controversial. There was still a resistance from many Jefferson-Martha Jefferson descendants to accept this truth. The book traces some current Sally and Martha descendants back to their roots, and intervie This book was interesting to read, given that it was written in 2002, very soon after there began to be hard DNA evidence that Jefferson fathered children through his slave, Sally Hemings. The way the book discusses this now fact demonstrates that back then, this very idea was still extremely controversial. There was still a resistance from many Jefferson-Martha Jefferson descendants to accept this truth. The book traces some current Sally and Martha descendants back to their roots, and interviews these descendants about their conflicting feelings about their common ancestor, and the legacy of slavery. The tone of the book is overwhelmingly optimistic, and really hits hard on the idea of reconciliation. In some regards, I feel that Jefferson gets off pretty easy - not much is gone into about the man himself. I'd be interested in knowing how things might have evolved for these descendants in the last 15 years. It does seem like a lot of the advocacy to bring truth out in the open and to bring the Hemingses in focus has paid off.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Fascinating! I love the idea behind this book and that so many descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson were willing to share info on their branches of the family tree. My grandparents took us to Monticello on a DC-area vacation when I was 14. My souvenir from that trip was a novel about Harriet Hemings's early life, The Wolf Behind the Ears. I know it happens occasionally still, but it was so intriguing to think that people could just disappear and change their lives the way Harriet an Fascinating! I love the idea behind this book and that so many descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson were willing to share info on their branches of the family tree. My grandparents took us to Monticello on a DC-area vacation when I was 14. My souvenir from that trip was a novel about Harriet Hemings's early life, The Wolf Behind the Ears. I know it happens occasionally still, but it was so intriguing to think that people could just disappear and change their lives the way Harriet and Beverley did. We know more about this family because of their famous patriarch. I'm sure so many U.S. families have similar stories, and I wish we all knew more about the different lines of our ancestors.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Imagine spending all your life telling people that Thomas Jefferson is one of your ancestors with no one believing you; mainly because of your skin color. Then, all of a sudden DNA test results prove your oral history to be true. Now imagine being a Jefferson ancestor by record and dispelling the rumor of the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings affair … would you welcome the Hemings family with open arms? Would you allow them to be buried in the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello? When the n Imagine spending all your life telling people that Thomas Jefferson is one of your ancestors with no one believing you; mainly because of your skin color. Then, all of a sudden DNA test results prove your oral history to be true. Now imagine being a Jefferson ancestor by record and dispelling the rumor of the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings affair … would you welcome the Hemings family with open arms? Would you allow them to be buried in the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello? When the news broke in 1998 there were (and might still be) two sides - the DNA results came back with proof of a match between two Jefferson and Hemmings ancestors. This is a story of those that never stopped believing and formed a community of support and inspiration and those to whom history changed as they knew it. It's a story that breaks down the racial barriers and joins us as family. A must read!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa James

    VERY good read. I loved not only the WAY this family's story was presented from the modern day tracing the roots back, but I adored reading the stories the people this young man interviewed told from their own perspectives, & the best part was the PICTURES!!!! VERY good read. I loved not only the WAY this family's story was presented from the modern day tracing the roots back, but I adored reading the stories the people this young man interviewed told from their own perspectives, & the best part was the PICTURES!!!!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    I recently saw a photo project (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/histor... ) where the photographer took a famous historical portrait and took a photo of one of their descendants. This set was Thomas Jefferson and Shannon Lanier, the author of this book. Jefferson is obviously white and a former president, the author of the Declaration of Independence and a slave owner. Shannon is black and a descendent if Sally Hemings, one of Jefferson’s slaves and thought to be the mother of several mor Jeffers I recently saw a photo project (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/histor... ) where the photographer took a famous historical portrait and took a photo of one of their descendants. This set was Thomas Jefferson and Shannon Lanier, the author of this book. Jefferson is obviously white and a former president, the author of the Declaration of Independence and a slave owner. Shannon is black and a descendent if Sally Hemings, one of Jefferson’s slaves and thought to be the mother of several mor Jefferson’s children. This book is about twenty years old now and written right as the Jefferson and Hemings families were meeting after DNA evidence concluding that Jefferson was in fact the father of at least one of Hemings’ children. At this point the Jefferson descendants were split on accepting the Hemings as part of the family. This book interviews members of both families as well as historians. I have read a few historical fiction books (America’s First Daughter and Jefferson’s Sons) that also explores the Jefferson/Hemings relationship and I visited Monticello were a room or an exhibit was dedicated to this as well. So it seems that I’m the past 20 years this has been a more accepted historical fact by the family. I enjoy the topic but the book was just OK. It is actually a youth non fiction. The writing was geared toward younger readers. Yet I don’t know that they would be interested in the topics. It was interesting though and I’d enjoy and updated version.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rhett Allee

    This is a good read. A nice collection of thoughts and stories from both sides of Jefferson family. There can no longer be any denial that Jefferson did father several children with Sally Hemmings. The only question that remains is what did their relationship look like? I believe this book gives credence to the belief that they had a loving relationship. In the current political climate some of these thoughts from 20 years ago of unity were nice to read and should be revisited. The primary Autho This is a good read. A nice collection of thoughts and stories from both sides of Jefferson family. There can no longer be any denial that Jefferson did father several children with Sally Hemmings. The only question that remains is what did their relationship look like? I believe this book gives credence to the belief that they had a loving relationship. In the current political climate some of these thoughts from 20 years ago of unity were nice to read and should be revisited. The primary Author, Shannon Lanier, is very well spoken and would have only been a college age student at the time of this publication.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    This is another book about the Jefferson-Hemings family. Annette Gordon-Reed’s magisterial The Hemingses of Monticello was the first one I read. This book shows us white and black Jefferson descendants, lets us listen to their words and is hopeful, not conclusive, on family reconciliation. There’s more! Towards the end of this book there’s a reference to Cinder Stanton’s book about Monticello slaves and their descendants, Those Who Labor For My Happiness. Not to mention Gordon-Reed’s earlier boo This is another book about the Jefferson-Hemings family. Annette Gordon-Reed’s magisterial The Hemingses of Monticello was the first one I read. This book shows us white and black Jefferson descendants, lets us listen to their words and is hopeful, not conclusive, on family reconciliation. There’s more! Towards the end of this book there’s a reference to Cinder Stanton’s book about Monticello slaves and their descendants, Those Who Labor For My Happiness. Not to mention Gordon-Reed’s earlier book Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, A Legal Controversy. This is a rich vein of history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Interesting to see the two sides of a family and how some of them have gotten together But this is not the only family in America that has two sides.....a lot of Blacks in this country who can trace their family history will find or have found a lot of the White Masters was their father, grandfather. Just goes to show you that we are all MIXED - we are Human!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lorren Raque'L

    Good information, somewhat hard to follow the genealogy. Definitely worth the read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Geneveive

    quite interesting

  12. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Wade Cairns

    3 1/2 stars. Enjoyable, easy read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Byron Woodson Sr.

    This book elevates the voice of those who are descended jointly from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. They passed on their oral history, that is, their family history generation to generation for 150 years. This is the voice that professional historians silenced for most of those years. The Hemings descendants are joined in this presentation by a renegade faction of the white Jefferson descendants, who were willing to put bigotry and prejudice behind them.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sunny Shore

    This book was a highly rated book for any age group about the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who was a slave in his house for many years. We don't know if they were in love, but Jefferson supposedly fathered many of Hemings' children. The book is written by a direct descendeant of this relationship and interviews all the people who were direct descendants of both Jefferson's marriage and his relationship with Hemings' after his wife's untimely death. All of the family have me This book was a highly rated book for any age group about the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who was a slave in his house for many years. We don't know if they were in love, but Jefferson supposedly fathered many of Hemings' children. The book is written by a direct descendeant of this relationship and interviews all the people who were direct descendants of both Jefferson's marriage and his relationship with Hemings' after his wife's untimely death. All of the family have met on the Ophrah Winfrey show some years back and Lanier, the author, zeroes in on a few of the people, both black, white, bi-racial, etc. We sit back and listen to stories of racism and the kinds of values these people grew up with before they even knew they were part African American. What we come away with that we should accept people for who they are and not the color of their skin. We know that, but how many people follow it. I found the organization of the book a little scattered and would've liked to see more family tree information. The notion of love between Jefferson and Hemings' is debated but what we come away with is a sense of equality for all men and women - no one is superior no matter what is in your geneological tree. Some people who were interviewed were obscure members of the family and even a doctor of DNA was spoken to, although this was not that interesting. This book is a solid 3. Thomas Jefferson comes off as a man of humanity who was against slavery, but somehow found himself as a slaveowner....a product of his time. Hemings too as a young black girl born of a white man and female slave was too a product of her time and we wonder why she didn't remain free in France, when she was given the opportunity. What we do know is that the institution of slavery tore apart many relationships and families and that we must embrace any heritage we possess.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    This is a very interesting book about Thomas Jefferson's legitimate and illegitimate families. It explores the controversy of the Sally Hemmings relationship through interviews with family members. Shannon Lanier is a descendant from the Sally Hemmings side of the family and wants to get to know all of his new cousins after the revelations about the relationship were announced and the family attended the reunion at Monticello. I found it fascinating to hear all the stories of this blended family This is a very interesting book about Thomas Jefferson's legitimate and illegitimate families. It explores the controversy of the Sally Hemmings relationship through interviews with family members. Shannon Lanier is a descendant from the Sally Hemmings side of the family and wants to get to know all of his new cousins after the revelations about the relationship were announced and the family attended the reunion at Monticello. I found it fascinating to hear all the stories of this blended family, how many of them passed for white instead of black, how some have always know they were descendants of Jefferson and how some just found out. I found it sad that some of the descendants from Jefferson's daughters deny there was any relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings. I have to admit that I believe there was a relationship between the two. It isn't that hard to believe that Jefferson could love his slave. Her devotion to him seems indisputable. She tended his grave until she died and wouldn't leave the area. I know some people find it hard to reconcile the Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Jefferson who had slaves, but he was a product of his time. Slavery was a part of life and he could not have done many of the great things he did without his slaves (build U.Va. and Monticello). He also educated his slaves and made sure they knew a trade, at least the ones that were his children. There are many twists and turns to this family's history and it is all very interesting and fascinating to read about.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    The author, a college student, wants to meet other descendants of Thomas Jefferson, black and white. So he travels around America making a pictoral essay of the Jefferson clan, which turns out to be a mirror of a blended America. Some folks embrace the Sally Hemmings descendants; others reject and/or deny them. The annual Jefferson family pinic on the grounds of Monticello doesn't want to admit the Hemmings descendants at first, but the author and his family are eventually accepted. In a larger The author, a college student, wants to meet other descendants of Thomas Jefferson, black and white. So he travels around America making a pictoral essay of the Jefferson clan, which turns out to be a mirror of a blended America. Some folks embrace the Sally Hemmings descendants; others reject and/or deny them. The annual Jefferson family pinic on the grounds of Monticello doesn't want to admit the Hemmings descendants at first, but the author and his family are eventually accepted. In a larger sense, Lanier's book is a portrait of how black/white relationships have shaped many American families. On an individual level, it is fascinating to read about the lives and accomplishments of individual Hemmings descendants, some of whom came to live in Ohio.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    I decided to read this book on the heels of visiting the Jefferson: Paradox exhibit at the National Museum of American History. If you have never followed this story line of Sally Hemmings children with Jefferson, or even Hemmings parentage (Elizabeth Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law), I highly recommend you read this book and other modern writings about one of our nation's founding fathers. All men are not apparently created equal, and it is only through forensic evidence that Jeff I decided to read this book on the heels of visiting the Jefferson: Paradox exhibit at the National Museum of American History. If you have never followed this story line of Sally Hemmings children with Jefferson, or even Hemmings parentage (Elizabeth Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law), I highly recommend you read this book and other modern writings about one of our nation's founding fathers. All men are not apparently created equal, and it is only through forensic evidence that Jefferson's family has been forced to accept his lineage with Hemmings. As I read this book, it saddens me that so many of Jefferson's daughters' children were able to deny the existence of their Hemmings kin for so many years. Some continue to do so to this day.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marlene

    The Hemings Jefferson story is interesting to me, like many blacks, I have wondered about my ancestors. As a light skin black person, I know there has to be white ancestors; but my very light skinned grandmother denies any white relatives. Now she is dead. We will never know. So I found this book interesting in that there are white people with my unique last name as well as black; and I have always thought some were the owners and some were slaves, thus the same last name. The book showed dffere The Hemings Jefferson story is interesting to me, like many blacks, I have wondered about my ancestors. As a light skin black person, I know there has to be white ancestors; but my very light skinned grandmother denies any white relatives. Now she is dead. We will never know. So I found this book interesting in that there are white people with my unique last name as well as black; and I have always thought some were the owners and some were slaves, thus the same last name. The book showed dfferent people on both sides and made for an interesting perspective. Not surprised that some white relatives are still denying; because having black relatives is socially unacceptable to many. Superiority is everything to those kind of people.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Shannon Lanier is a descendant of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. In 1999 the Hemmings were invited to the Monticello Family reunion because of the DNA findings that proved their familial relationship. But not everyone was welcomed with open arms. Shannon, interviewed different family members about their oral traditions and definitions of family. Why I started this book: Someone checked this book in at the library and it grabbed my attention. Why I finished it: I have always been interested i Shannon Lanier is a descendant of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. In 1999 the Hemmings were invited to the Monticello Family reunion because of the DNA findings that proved their familial relationship. But not everyone was welcomed with open arms. Shannon, interviewed different family members about their oral traditions and definitions of family. Why I started this book: Someone checked this book in at the library and it grabbed my attention. Why I finished it: I have always been interested in family history and the fact that this family has so many branches that have lost touch and then been reconnected with each other made it fascinating. I loved the pictures that accompanied each interview.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Classified in the library as "teen nonfiction," this is a valuable book for readers of all ages. Stories from members of the Jefferson and Hemings family, the discussion is so civil and adult, no blame or anger or hatefulness on either side. There are those who refuse to accept the evidence, or interpret it in different ways, but even those interviews are respectful of difference of opinion. I think if we could all approach race discussions (or discussions on any charged issue) this way, our cou Classified in the library as "teen nonfiction," this is a valuable book for readers of all ages. Stories from members of the Jefferson and Hemings family, the discussion is so civil and adult, no blame or anger or hatefulness on either side. There are those who refuse to accept the evidence, or interpret it in different ways, but even those interviews are respectful of difference of opinion. I think if we could all approach race discussions (or discussions on any charged issue) this way, our country just might be able to break through the walls that currently divide us. Highly recommended.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I remember hearing this story years ago on the Oprah show and while looking for books the other day found it. I am so glad I did. An absolutely fabulous book. The families of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings are brought together through oral history, DNA, rumor, innuendo, secrecy and some shame. This book examines their story though interviews by many cousins, young and old. The only sadness is that the hope expressed when this book was published, that our racial tensions were easing, has turn I remember hearing this story years ago on the Oprah show and while looking for books the other day found it. I am so glad I did. An absolutely fabulous book. The families of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings are brought together through oral history, DNA, rumor, innuendo, secrecy and some shame. This book examines their story though interviews by many cousins, young and old. The only sadness is that the hope expressed when this book was published, that our racial tensions were easing, has turned out not to be the case. History buffs will love it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dietrich West-Graham

    Interesting. But way to many blanks in what happened. Maybe she came to love him because he set her children free but was it love or duty. Always more questions that answers about this couple. You wish someone had written something down at the time. Of course she most likely could not write and he was not going to write about having a slave woman in his life. So it is anybody's guess. Still it was interesting to see life from a Black families point of view that could trace it family back for a n Interesting. But way to many blanks in what happened. Maybe she came to love him because he set her children free but was it love or duty. Always more questions that answers about this couple. You wish someone had written something down at the time. Of course she most likely could not write and he was not going to write about having a slave woman in his life. So it is anybody's guess. Still it was interesting to see life from a Black families point of view that could trace it family back for a number of generations.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Asilveredge

    I enjoyed this. I'd heard of the Jefferson/Hemmings theory, but not in detail. I didn't know about the oral history on the Hemmings' side, or Sally's staying in town to care for Thomas's grave. That makes it a lot more believable, to me, that it was probably Thomas himself and not his brother as some people say. Besides that, though, it was fascinating to see the points of view and memories of so many people laid out as interviews in a book - all the facets and sides of a single story. I enjoyed this. I'd heard of the Jefferson/Hemmings theory, but not in detail. I didn't know about the oral history on the Hemmings' side, or Sally's staying in town to care for Thomas's grave. That makes it a lot more believable, to me, that it was probably Thomas himself and not his brother as some people say. Besides that, though, it was fascinating to see the points of view and memories of so many people laid out as interviews in a book - all the facets and sides of a single story.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tori

    My mother gave me a signed copy of this book as a gift. The story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings has fascinated me for a very long time. Add that to my interest in genetics, heritage, and tracing your family roots, and this book was pretty much a perfect gift for me. Lovely color pictures and great stories.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mrs. Rosie

    Very interesting! A little confusing following family after family to come down to the truth. I believe the story of Thomas Jefferson having a "second" family with his slave (who was half-sister to his wife). I'm sure he loved her for who she was. Sad that they families had to "hide the family secret" for so many years! Very interesting! A little confusing following family after family to come down to the truth. I believe the story of Thomas Jefferson having a "second" family with his slave (who was half-sister to his wife). I'm sure he loved her for who she was. Sad that they families had to "hide the family secret" for so many years!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Arlene Eisenbise

    During a visit to Monticello, I purchased this book. I wanted to learn more about Jefferson's two families. This was the perfect book to feed my curiosity as told by family members. The book confirmed my belief in the importance of providing oral or written histories for those who follow us. During a visit to Monticello, I purchased this book. I wanted to learn more about Jefferson's two families. This was the perfect book to feed my curiosity as told by family members. The book confirmed my belief in the importance of providing oral or written histories for those who follow us.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I am currently re-reading this book and it is making me wonder if it is not time for Oprah to revisit this family.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    The description on this book is great as an overview.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bart

    Genealogy is a passion of mine so I found this book interesting. It is a quick read. Short sketches on Jefferson descendants and their view on the Jefferson/Hemings relationship.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Angelene Hanna

    Such a fascinating story - chronicles the descendants of Thomas Jefferson, from both Sally Hemings and Martha Jefferson.

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