Cultural Autobiography

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Cultural Autobiography
When I first saw in the syllabus the type of paper we would be writing for this course I thought about what culture means to me. What was the culture of my family? Where did we come from? How did we end up in Virginia? How did we end up believing some of the things we believe? To me culture was basically how I was raised—my behaviors, beliefs, values, and ideas cultivated during my youth and its evolvement as I grew into an adult. This truly was to be a very interesting and involved quest for information. Though I attempted to use websites such as and, I found most of the information from a couple of the adults in my family. Adults? I, too, am an adult, but in my family, age comes before everything; and because I am younger, I am treated as such and am expected to behave a certain manner towards the elders in my family. So begins the learning of the nature of my familial circle!

It was incredibly difficult to get information from older family members—and younger family members knew little! I went through several adults before obtaining any information. I received no information from the men and minimal information from the females. Much of my information I had to remember from what my grandmother told me which had to be pieced together with information from cousins and my brother.

My grandfather is the only one of my grandparents still alive today. He is from Stony Creek, Virginia, and his father is from North Carolina though he grew up in Sussex, Virginia. His mother was a slave descendent and his father was a landowner. I could not retrieve names or dates for his parents' births or deaths or their marriage. My great-grandmother's biological father was white and her mother's race remains unknown to me. Because my great-grandmother had very pale skin and soft, dark and wavy hair, I cannot assume that her mother was of African descent or of Cherokee Indian descent as were several of my great-great aunts and uncles. Information was quite limited on the Cherokee Indian background of blacks in Virginia and North Carolina. I did, however, find the following information on why this may be the case Her [Dr. DeMarce] work is mentioned here because there are thousands of African Americans from Virginia, and the Carolinas who claim Native American Ancestry, yet have no direction as to where to go to document this relationship. The effort to trace Indian ancestry from the Upper South is probably one of the more challenging areas of Black-Indian Genealogy. Unlike the extensive records to be found in the Five Civilized Tribes, there was a deliberate effort of the United States to eliminate other tribes by officially eliminating them from the Federal Census. In the early 1800's it was not uncommon to learn that many tribes were simply "terminated". As a result, among those families where Indian ancestors lived, they were frequently listed as mulatto, or as white, depending upon the complexion of the individuals enumerated. This official "termination" gave the impression that the population in the United States was either black or white. This challenge in locating Indian ancestors from this region must be clearly understood by the family historian from the beginning.

The Five Civilized Tribes are the Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Seminoles. Euro-Americans referred to these tribes as civilized because the cultures of these tribes had traditional characteristics that were misrepresented as evolving from Euro-American contact. Some of these tribes even had slaves.

When my search ended within the family, I searched for the family name of Parham. Parham is a name from places in Suffolk and Sussex, with pere ‘pear' and ham ‘homestead'. The majority of the Parhams immigrated from Germany, England, and Ireland.

There are 4 living generations currently in my family. Normally, the eldest person in the family is considered the wisest and the...
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