Can We Repair the Past?

From Public Books:

n late 2020, I, an American citizen, became an Austrian, through a new law granting citizenship to the descendants of victims of the Third Reich. (Germany has long had a similar law; Austria, far worse in their anti-Semitism, according to my late grandfather, was much slower on the uptake.) My family was exiled and imprisoned. Wealthy Austrian Jews had assimilated into metropolitan Viennese life; many were able to flee and thus avoid the camps and the gas chambers, opportunities not afforded most other Jews across Europe. They arrived in the US, Australia, Israel, England, and Brazil with copious amounts of documentation of the crimes against them. These materials not only allowed family members to claim money from a number of different funds set up to atone for the violent plunder and taking by the Nazis but also recently provided a path back to membership in the Austrian nation.

I keep coming back to the ideas of possession, place, and property when I consider my new status as an Austrian. I’ve never been to the country; my only attachment to it now is a red passport. But the nature of lineage and changing laws mean I have the right to claim.

Can the harm done to our ancestors be remedied through reparative acts in the present? Perhaps we can grant ownership of what was lost, but does that correct historical violence? Such questions frame Menachem Kaiser’s new memoir, PlunderIndeed, I was drawn to the book in part because of my own recent forays into reparative justice for Nazi-era atrocities. Nominally centered on the author’s attempts to reclaim a Polish building his Jewish grandfather lost during World War II, Plunder takes its reader on an audacious journey through Polish property ledgers, Nazi treasure hunting, and the mundane urbanism of Eastern European cities remade after many rounds of occupation and Jewish extermination. At its heart, the book considers rights to property and ownership as central to historical legacies of memory and place.

Kaiser is keenly aware that his regaining ownership of the building will change the lives of its inhabitants, introducing uncertainty and even fear of the loss of their home. In the West, we are taught that property and its rights are natural and ordered, producing good citizens and harmonious communities. Yet property, and by extension possession, always relies on dispossession, a taking from one to give to another, at least at first. It is, in the crudest terms, a form of loot or plunder. His possessing the building will take something from its inhabitants. Not as violent as the Third Reich seizing heirlooms from Jewish ghettoes across its growing empire (what a friend recently referred to as the “shtetl belt”—we Jews love to joke about past horrors), but still a kind of theft. As Kaiser wades into the various laws regarding property, discovered objects and antiquities, and descent, he reveals how possession is tenuous and fraught, rife with conflict between individuals, nation-states, and competing historical narratives.

Like Kaiser, I have been somewhat bemused by this turn of events. My relationship with Austria is tenuous at best. I already have citizenship in the wealthiest country in the world, something millions long for (granted, options at this particular historical juncture are great to have, but wouldn’t the passport be better used by one of the millions, if not billions of people at risk of violence, political oppression and war, and the ravages of climate change?). But I am also unclear as to whether this is a means of righting a historical wrong or simply the logic of jus sanguinis, blood citizenship.

Kaiser writes poignantly about his family’s internal struggles over his quest for reclamation, interlacing them with his own confusion about the nature of his journey. Here he toys with language, searching for the precise terms to describe what he is doing. Is it reclamation? Or, as he alights on, assertion? What might be the difference? And what of the myriad other terms he does not use, such as recuperation, and of course most critical for our present conjuncture, reparation?

What if, like Kaiser’s, our attachment to the place of our ancestors’ suffering is fleeting, a historical filament? He admits that he has no real affective relationship with his grandfather’s Poland. Kaiser never met his grandfather, who died several years before he was born. Until his death, his grandfather, for whom he is named, sought to reclaim the multistory building that had been his family patrimony at the onset of war in the Polish city Sosnowiec.

The author decides to take up his ancestor’s reclamation project, in part as a way of connecting with a relative he never got to know. As he delves in, he encounters a lively cast of characters and makes a detour into rural Silesia. There treasure hunters—or are they explorers?—search for Nazi-era loot within a series of underground bunkers and tunnels Jewish slave laborers built at the apogee of the war. Rumors, myths, and historical fabulations abound in the lush forests and industrial ruins.

By placing his effort to reclaim family property against the unfolding dramedies of his new explorer friends, Kaiser makes us ruminate on the book’s title. As noted above, possession requires dispossession; the restoration of plunder might require plundering in turn.

At points, he seeks to justify his planned taking—plundering?—by rendering inheritance straightforward, a question of lineage. Moreover, he does not deploy the term reparations, seeing his claim for property as an assertion of inheritance and lineage. However, inheritance is never so simple, hence a canon of literature on its anxieties, from Howards End to Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest to a plot point in the recent Sex and the City rebootMany of those works, too, concern property and its rightful (or proper) place. To whom does what belong? Is it a question of what is written in the property ledger or the cadastral map? Or is it about sentimental attachments and the affective relationships we develop to places?

Link to the rest at Public Books

As PG has opined before, while he understands the deep and terrible things that were done to human beings by other human beings during the 20th Century, providing something tangible – land, money, etc. – to the descendants of those who were treated terribly will not provide any benefit to those who were actually harmed by such wrongdoing.

PG suggests that going down this path leads to the nurturing of national and/or racial hatred that characterizes the endless enmity between ethnic/religious/etc. groups. As an example, some radical Muslims identify Christians of European descent as Crusaders, referring to a period generally agreed to have lasted from 1095 – 1291 AD.

There is no one on this planet who was harmed by an actual Crusader. Ditto for a child or grandchild of someone who was harmed by a Crusader.

One of the beneficial aspects of traditional societies in the US is that they left their ancestral feuds behind them. While African Americans were harmed by slavery and its aftermath, no one alive today has been a slave or the son/daughter, grandson/granddaughter of a slave. Racial prejudice, where it still exists in the United States, has a more contemporary source than 150 years ago.

With respect to Native Americans, serious injustices did occur at the hands of some European immigrants and their descendents . On the other hand, some of the earliest British settlers in the United States, experienced terrible race/nationality-based atrocities at the hands of Native Americans.

If we’re going to get specific, it’s likely that far more Native Americans and their civilizations were harmed by Spanish colonists and soldiers than by English colonists and soldiers. So, do the descendants of British or Swedish or Russian colonists have a gripe against those who claim they owe something to the Native Americans in South and Central America whose ancestors were displaced by Spanish or Portuguese invaders?

Many are familiar with a concept in American and British law known as a statute of limitations.

Here’s one description of the purpose of statutes of limitations:

Legislative act(s) restricting the time within which legal proceedings may be brought, usually to a fixed period after the occurrence of the events that gave rise to the cause of action. Such statutes are enacted to protect persons against claims made after disputes have become stale, evidence has been lost, memories have faded, or witnesses have disappeared.

If your great-grandfather killed my great-grandfather in cold blood in 1900, even if my great-grandfather’s wife were still alive, she would have no claim for damages against your great-grandfather if he were still alive. Any claim would be barred by a statute of limitations.

The principle is even clearer for PG if we’re talking about the descendents of the great grandfathers and great-grandmothers.

35 thoughts on “Can We Repair the Past?”

  1. “There is no one on this planet who was harmed by an actual Crusader.”

    Not in person, no, but there’s an argument to be made that geopolitical situations created by actual Crusaders can still have an impact on the inhabitants of the same places today.

    For what it’s worth, I agree with your main point (that reparations paid in this generation for harm done in long-gone generations are somewhat pointless). However, I also have some sympathy for people who are in bad situations today in part because of how their ancestors, distant and recent, were treated (of whom the OP does not seem to be one), and I do favour looking for ways in which they can be put back on a more equal footing.

    • But if you are reaching back into history for grievances where do you stop? The crusades were only a reaction to the previous Islamic/Arabian aggression against the Persian and Roman empires. Should the oil wealth of Arabia be used to pay reparations to, for example, compensate the Spanish for the Islamic conquest (or for any other violence that can be traced back to the founding of the religion)?

      A case can certainly be made for helping people living today who are in a bad situation that is not of there own making, but this should be based on their current difficulties not on how some of their ancestors were treated by some of the ancestors of some other group of people.

      • You stop when your ancestors wete aggrieved, of course. Never mind when they were the aggrievers. And along the way, you gloss over any details that might undercut the narative that “the world owes me”.

    • Whenever we hear about the Crusades, let’s remember what happened at the other end of the Mediterranean. In 711AD Muslim armies under Tariq ibn-Ziyad invaded Spain. They continued conquering, going north from Spain into France. They were defeated in 732AD by Charles Martel at the Battle Of Tours.

      But, they were not ejected from Europe. They held onto the bulk of Spain. They were not completely defeated until 1492.

      Here’s a test we can all safely take at home: The First Crusade was launched in 1096AD. Is that before or after the Muslims launched their invasion of Spain in 711AD?

  2. The problem with reparations (of all kinds, including war reparations and that’s a subject you do not want to get me started on even if this was an appropriate forum*) is more a psychological one than anything else. And the problem is not with the recipients: It is the psychology of how the paying government — and it has to be a government — obtains and allocates the funds/property used to make the payments.

    There isn’t a good and easy solution that even approaches “just” or “fair.” My somewhat-sarcastic take is that if (a) a family owned land in the US prior to 1919, (b) that family had anyone working that land other than themselves, and (c) that family is 90% or more from Northwest Europe, all of the land other than currently-lived-in-by-the-family residences should be nationalized as a core asset base for reparations. Yeah, that’s gonna go over real well (I did say it was somewhat sarcastic); however much sympathy I have for the attitude of “loot the trust funds!” one just cannot paint with that broad a brush — if only because that’s exactly how this mess was created in the first place.

    But what this little thought experiment points out is the requirement that those who make reparations have to feel that there is fairness and justice not in just the payment, but the source of the payment; and spreading it out through, say, an income tax surcharge (as has been proposed more than once) isn’t going to make David Tran — the Vietnamese refugee who made his fortune in Orange County introducing Americans to a sweet/hot sauce from the border town Si Richa — feel like it’s an appropriate source. Let alone the entire state of Hawaii, or most of Alaska.

    This is one of the weaknesses of Rawlsian concepts of justice, based on the “veil of ignorance” and “equality of original position”: Both a true veil of ignorance and true equality of original position (including both resources and opportunity) are just as plausible as a perpetual-motion machine. Which is not to say that studying Rawls can never lead to insights — merely not to practically adoptable and implementable policies.

    * OK, one short note. There’s considerable documentation showing that the particularly inept war reparations program imposed in the Treaty of Versailles set the stage for the particular nationalism of the late 1920s-early 1930s in western Germany — most of which was lukewarm at best about entering conflict in 1914, considering the war a Prussian thing — and blaming a Germany that no longer had a Kaiser as a whole for the Kaiser’s (and Prussian hangers-on’s) escalation put some extra salt in the centuries-old wounds. (It’s Aachen, not Aix-la-Chappelle!) And that’s just one well-documented example.

    • Right now we’re seeing a generational feud a-borning. Along with the end of slavic identity superceding national identity.
      Ukrainians used to see russians as kin and saw their separation as simply not wanting to live under russian rule. Now, however, they have grievances to spare beyond the one guy unleashing tbe chaos upon them.
      This one is going to echo through t he ages: “Remember Mariupol” as the end result of giving up nukes in returns for politician promises. Lots of bloody hands behind this and not just in Russia.

  3. If you’re a human being with a navel, someone in the past exercised some form of untoward control over at least one of your ancestors. However, that does not mean you are owed or “deserve” (the most abused word in the English language) anything at all. Consider it an opportunity for growth, or not: You can get over any actual or imagined slights and continue living your best life, or you can succumb to the desire to seek “reparations.”

    But that desire is never based on noble intentions. The desire for reparations is based solely on greed, the ugliest and most-base human inclination. Consider, even if the person or group requesting reparations doesn’t benefit personally from the award, s/he/it benefits from the sense of power that comes from exercising control over someone else.

    And that, in the present as in the past, is a shameful act that the person’s descendants probably will someday use as a basis to seek, well, reparations. Sigh. And the human race keeps rolling along.

    • Yes. As C.E. noted, the reparations after World War One fueled the German desire for revenge in World War Two – just as the reparations after the Franco-German War in 1870 fueled the French desire for revenge in World War One. (One can trace back the constant enmities at least to Charlie’s grandkids – although there was always both formal and informal warfare between the Gallic and Germanic tribes.)

    • This leaves lots of room for creativity. Suppose one is looking at the injustices of 1800. Without duplication, a person born today can have 2,000 ancestors from 1800. It’s common for people to pick just one, and state, “I’m descended from XYZ.” They tend to neglect all the others involved in the forming their genome.

      Populations are far more mobile today than in the past, so enthusiasm for large numbers should be tempered a bit. But, who knows what was going on behind the haystack? Just one outlander in the pool could be worth lots of money in the reparations lottery.

      But it works both ways. Seems the folks most disappointed by the results of their consumer DNA analyses are those who claimed Native American heritage. They are shattered when they find not a trace of the coveted genetic patterns. Especially the ones who got a minority hiring preference.

      • Depends on location.
        Genrally true of tbe US and most parts of Europe.
        Not true in many other places. In some spots you have to go back a millenia or more to find diversity. Usually when the current breed arrived and erased the previous occupants. 🙂

  4. Equality of opportunity is something worth enshrining, hence the American dream. That’s all that men can do, realistically — they are not gods to seek perfect justice.

    The desire to overbalance that with regard to others, to make yourself feel better about things, is one of the roots of all evil — a vanity worse than greed. Hubris is the devil’s work.

  5. Never ceases to amaze me that the people whose privilege granted them so much insist that they are self-made.

    The inequities of the past are still with us – in the children who got the better schools, and higher quality food and habitation.

    Based on almost any statistic, people of color are disproportionately poor, stuck in substandard housing, likely to die earlier, and limited from advancing in their jobs.

    When we put the best schools in the poorest school districts, that will be a reparation beginning equalization of opportunity, the gold standard. Until then, the ‘system’ reinforces every inequality, perpetuating it for another generation.

    • Based on almost any statistic, people of color are disproportionately poor, stuck in substandard housing, likely to die earlier, and limited from advancing in their jobs.

      Are Asian-Americans (including those of Indian heritage) people of color? What statistic shows them disproportionately poor, stuck in substandard housing, likely to die earlier, and limited from advancing in their jobs?

      • There is a school of thought in US academia that, believe it or not, humsn behavior and worth is determined by melanin. I kid you not. In that view, the warm and naturally kind southern people are inherently superior to the cold ruthless melanin-deprived northern folk.
        I’ve seen worse.

        Tribalism will always find ways to dehumanize others.
        Living in a global village simply requires more sweeping divides than just locals and outsiders. And humans never lack for inventiveness in narratives.

      • That is why the term “BIPOC” (black and indigenous person/people of color) was invented, because the Asian-American experience causes severe complications for the “all minority problems are caused by white supremacy” crowd.

    • Not all poverty is the result of “da man” or class warfare. That is just a facile narrative to avoid dealing with a much more complex socioeconomic mess.

      Are you familiar with the term, Cracker culture?
      It’s worth a bit of study from its origins with the Celts and Pics and antebellum USA through the ages to its present day heirs, the US urban poor. Like many dispasionate looks at the subject of the american underclasses it is violently contentious.

      Economist Thomas Sowell is one of its bigger believers.
      He has a set of 3 (and counting) short videos on tbe subject.
      Debatable but it offers to the worn narratives expounded as paliatives both on the left and right.

      https://muse.jhu.edu/book/22511

      “SUMMARY
      Cracker Culture is a provocative study of social life in the Old South that probes the origin of cultural differences between the South and the North throughout American history. Among Scotch-Irish settlers the term “Cracker” initially designated a person who boasted, but in American usage the word has come to designate poor whites. McWhiney uses the term to define culture rather than to signify an economic condition. Although all poor whites were Crackers, not all Crackers were poor whites; both, however, were Southerners.

      The author insists that Southerners and Northerners were never alike. American colonists who settled south and west of Pennsylvania during the 17th and 18th centuries were mainly from the “Celtic fringe” of the British Isles. The culture that these people retained in the New World accounts in considerable measure for the difference between them and the Yankees of New England, most of whom originated in the lowlands of the southeastern half of the island of Britain. From their solid base in the southern backcountry, Celts and their “Cracker” descendants swept westward throughout the antebellum period until they had established themselves and their practices across the Old South. Basic among those practices that determined their traditional folkways, values, norms, and attitudes was the herding of livestock on the open range, in contrast to the mixed agriculture that was the norm both in southeastern Britain and in New England. The Celts brought to the Old South leisurely ways that fostered idleness and gaiety. Like their Celtic ancestors, Southerners were characteristically violent; they scorned pacifism; they considered fights and duels honorable and consistently ignored laws designed to control their actions. In addition, family and kinship were much more important in Celtic Britain and the antebellum South than in England and the Northern United States. Fundamental differences between Southerners and Northerners shaped the course of antebellum American history; their conflict in the 1860s was not so much brother against brother as culture against culture. “

        • Sowell has *lots* of interesting things to say.
          Being a southern black educated in the north he’s seen a lot and isn’t shy.
          (Being very smart doesn’t hurt his causes much, either. Not a guy you want to debate.)

          Reminds me of Patrick David Moynihan intellectually honest and blunt.

          • Do you mean the late Daniel Patick Moynihan, academic and former Senator from the state containing Lawn Guyland?

            The guy who used to invite junior and field-grade officers (while waiting for weather to clear or his aircraft to be ready) to respond to his statements on how established principles of international law apply to military actions short of a declaration of war during Fall and Winter 1990, and actually listened to the responses and replied respectfully himself?

            • Got the name backwards, didn’t I?
              Oops.
              Yes.
              Open minded and intellectually open and a real world Cassandra.

      • That reminded me of an article from 2012.

        How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America
        https://truthout.org/articles/how-a-brutal-strain-of-american-aristocrats-have-come-to-rule-america/

        I was able to track down the books referred to in the article and have them as part of the background for future stories.

        This is the book that seems to be key.

        Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways In America by David Hackett Fischer
        [quote]
        Synopses & Reviews

        This book is the first volume in a cultural history of the United States, from the earliest English settlements to our own time. It is a history of American folkways as they have changed through time, and it argues a thesis about the importance for the United States of having been British in its cultural origins.
        From 1629 to 1775, North America was settled by four great waves of English-speaking immigrants. The first was an exodus of Puritans from the east of England to Massachusetts (1629-1640). The second was the movement of a Royalist elite and indentured servants from the south of England to Virginia (ca. 1649-75). The third was the “Friends’ migration,”–the Quakers–from the North Midlands and Wales to the Delaware Valley (ca. 1675-1725). The fourth was a great flight from the borderlands of North Britain and northern Ireland to the American backcountry (ca. 1717-75).

        These four groups differed in many ways–in religion, rank, generation and place of origin. They brought to America different folkways which became the basis of regional cultures in the United States. They spoke distinctive English dialects and built their houses in diverse ways. They had different ideas of family, marriage and gender; different practices of child-naming and child-raising; different attitudes toward sex, age and death; different rituals of worship and magic; different forms of work and play; different customs of food and dress; different traditions of education and literacy; different modes of settlement and association. They also had profoundly different ideas of comity, order, power and freedom which derived from British folk-traditions. Albion’s Seed describes those differences in detail, and discusses the continuing importance of their transference to America.

        Today most people in the United States (more than 80 percent) have no British ancestors at all. These many other groups, even while preserving their own ethnic cultures, have also assimilated regional folkways which were transplanted from Britain to America. In that sense, nearly all Americans today are “Albion’s Seed,” no matter what their ethnic origins may be; but they are so in their different regional ways. The concluding section of Albion’s Seed explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still control attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.

        Albion’s Seed also argues that the four British folkways created an expansive cultural pluralism that has proved to the more libertarian than any single culture alone could be. Together they became the determinants of a voluntary society in the United States.
        [/quote]

        • Interesting.
          It ties in to both CRACKER CULTURE and, more encompasing, Joel Garreau’s NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA and the various other attempts to clarify North American Regionalisms.

          A point to consider is the other big migrations from Britain, France, and Spain, leading to Newfoundland, Quebec, Florida, and California.

          Taking a broad enough and deep enough view it is clear the US is unified solely by its national myth and the constitution. Take that away and you have Yugoslavia. 😉
          (And some are trying to do just that.)

          I need to reread Ron Goulart’s AFTER THINGS FELL APART.
          https://www.amazon.com/After-Things-Fell-Apart-Goulart/dp/0425076474

          • I was sure that I had a ton of Ron Goulart, yet I only have a couple of his books. That’s crazy. Each time someone mentions Goulart I discover the lack. Hopefully more of his books come out in ebook.

            Thanks…

            Joel Garreau’s NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA

            Read Heinlein’s novel, Friday, with “Nine Nations” in mind. He clearly read the book and then riffed on the concept. This is a similar book that came out in 2011.

            American Nations
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Nations

            The whole concept makes great sense for Story.

            • That’s a good one too.
              But he glosses over Canada and tbe Northwest..Cascadia deserves better.

              Garreau I particularly like because of tbe “anomalies”, city states he didn’t try to shoehorn into their geographical regions. Holds up very well after five decades.

              Lots of good story fodder in both.

      • I’ve been watching the various videos with Thomas Sowell since you mentioned him. They just posted this video on YouTube.

        The Origin of Black American Culture and Ebonics | Thomas Sowell
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT4NQ9D0M6w

        This is exactly what we’ve been talking about, and referring to the same main books. Cracker Culture and Albion’s Seed.

        It’s as if they are reading TPV.

        • Sowell also wrote Basic Economics which I recommend to anyone who wants a good understanding of econ, but doesn’t want to deal with what many consider mind-numbing math and details. I read it after all that mind-numbing, and wished I head read it before. It’s excellent, requires no prereqs, and uses real world situations as a foundation.

          • I’ve been looking at some of his books. The eTextbook prices are outrageous. Sadly, I will still buy it because I’m running out of room to store books. It’s actually cheaper because it takes no space. HA!

            Thanks…

        • It’s not as if there are many sources looking at the origins of inner city culture. It seems to be as contentious as THE BELL CURVE. Most of the sources I found were trying to make the cracker link go away without offering any alternate theory.

          It’s not as if anybody serious about studying the root causes can’t draw from Europe, South America or Asia for comparable underclass behavioral studies or Jamaica or Kenya or Brazil or South Africa if they wanted to limit their scope by melanin content.

          It is pretty much a matter of going with the cracker links or hope people stop wondering.

  6. As to the title question: NO.
    Entropy rules.
    What is done is done and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…”

    Live with the world that is instead of past that wasn’t.

  7. This is the second time a great article title fooled me into thinking it was something else. I will write many books based on it anyway.

    This reminds me of the “throw away” scene from Babylon 5.

    Alien Sued for Abduction of Human’s Ancester
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhC_KHkihKY

    BTW, The guy trying to reclaim the building in Poland should try to have a nice brass plaque with the story placed on the building instead of taking it back. Though it may not help in the long run.

    Mormon Battalion Monument (Sandoval County, New Mexico)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Battalion_Monument_(Sandoval_County,_New_Mexico)

    The plaque on the monument has been vandalized, with the word “savages” chiseled off.

    BTW, I drove by that monument for years, each time I commuted to work, to and fro. On gray windy days, I would see the ghost of a woman in a white flowing dress, standing beside the monument. Miss Partridge still shows up every now and then and demands that I tell her story. I will see her out of the corner of my eye.

    – That’s the only safe way to see her, don’t look!

    Do not look her in the eyes, there lies death.

  8. I’ll pick up on the inheritability of any rights that are different from those of any other person.

    If you delve into family history, you’ll find that everyone has a huge number of ancestors. If you go back ten generations, you’ll find over 1,000 direct-line ancestors in your family tree. And this is only direct line relations – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents.

    You also have a huge number of other relatives who are descended from your direct-line ancestors because, as an example, your four grandparents (two on your mother’s side and two on your father’s side) are quite likely to have more children than only your mother and father. Your aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles and first and second cousins don’t count as your direct-line ancestors.

    To say you’re unique because you are descended from someone famous who died two hundred or more years ago is simply not correct. There are a huge number of other people who can say the exact same thing.

    Going from a single ancestor through a hundred or two hundred years will also generate a huge number of descendants. Following is a list of Thomas Jefferson’s Married Great-Grandchildren and their families (From The Jefferson Monticello – https://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/44)

    PG’s rough count is that there were nearly 250 fourth generations of Thomas Jefferson. And that doesn’t include the descendants that couldn’t be tracked via public records. If you examine the death dates, you’ll discover that almost all of these almost-250 people died over 100 years ago. And they undoubtedly had many more than 250 descendants, so the number of descendants of Thomas Jefferson living today has to be in the thousands.

    Fourth Generation—Thomas Jefferson’s Married Great-Grandchildren

    John Warner Bankhead (1810–1896) married

    in 1832 Elizabeth Poindexter Christian
    children: Archer Christian (1833–1906)
    Cary Randolph (1835–1907)
    Martha Jefferson (1837–1891)
    Thomas Jefferson (1839–1863)
    Thomas Mann Randolph Bankhead (1811–1851) married

    in ca. 1845 Elizabeth Anne Pryor
    children: no children
    Ellen Monroe Bankhead (1812–1838) married

    in 1832 John Coles Carter (1800–1872)
    children: Anne Carter (1833–1895)
    Robert Hill (1835–1854)
    John Coles (1837–1902)
    William Stuart Bankhead (1826–1898) married

    in 1850 Martha Jane Watkins (d. 1851)
    children: Child (1851)
    in 1854 Barbara Elizabeth Garth (d. 1867)
    children: Anne Cary Randolph (1856–1900)
    William Stuart (1858–1862)
    Daughter (1860)
    Elizabeth Garth (1865–1942)
    in ca. 1868 Catharine Gilchrist Garth
    children: Stuart Gibbons (1869)
    Margaret Smith Randolph (1816–1842) married

    in 1839 William Mann Randolph (1811–1850)
    children: Jane Margaret (1840–1914)
    William Lewis (1841–1892)
    Martha Jefferson Randolph (1817–1857) married

    in 1834 John Charles Randolph Taylor (1812–1875)
    children: Bennett Taylor (1836–1898)
    Jane Randolph (1838–1917)
    Susan Beverley (1840–1900)
    Jefferson Randolph (1842–1919)
    Margaret Randolph (1843–1898)
    Charlotte (1845–1846)
    Stevens Mason (1847–1917)
    Cornelia Jefferson (1849–1937)
    Moncure Robinson (1851–1915)
    Edmund Randolph (1853–1919)
    Sidney Wayles (1854–1856)
    John Charles Randolph (1857–1863)
    Caryanne Nicholas Randolph (1820–1857) married

    in 1840 Francis Gildart Ruffin (1816–1892)
    children: Spencer Roane (1841)
    Jefferson Randolph (1842–1907)
    William Roane (1845–1889)
    Wilson Nicholas (1848–1919)
    George Randolph (1849–1915)
    Francis Gildart (1852–1902)
    Benjamin Randolph (b. ca. 1852)
    Eliza McDonald (1853–1904)
    Cary Randolph (1857–1910)
    Ellen Wayles Randolph (1823–1876) married

    in 1859 William Byrd Harrison (1800–1870)
    children: Evelyn Byrd (1860)
    Jane Nicolas Randolph (1862–1926)
    Jefferson Randolph (1863–1931)
    Maria Jefferson Carr Randolph (1826–1902) married

    in 1849 Charles Mason (1810–1888)
    children: Jefferson Randolph (1850–1888)
    Lucy Wiley (1852–1922)
    John Enoch (1854–1910)
    Wilson Cary Nicholas (1856–1866)
    Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1829–1872) married

    in 1853 Mary Walker Meriwether
    children: Francis Meriwether (1854–1922)
    Thomas Jefferson (1855–1884)
    Margaret Douglas (1857–1880)
    Francis Nelson (1858–1880)
    Jane Hollins (1861–1862)
    George Geiger (1863–1893)
    in 1865 Charlotte Nelson Meriwether
    children: Mary Walker (1866–1957)
    Charlotte Nelson (1868–1870)
    Jane Nicholas Randolph (1831–1868) married

    in 1854 Robert Garlick Hill Kean (1828–1898)
    children: Lancelot Minor (1856–1931)
    Martha Cary (1858–1939)
    Jefferson Randolph (1860–1950)
    Robert Garlick Hill (1862–after 1883)
    Lewis Randolph (1864)
    George Randolph (1866–1869)
    Wilson Cary Nicholas Randolph (1834–1907) married

    in 1858 Anne Elizabeth Holladay (1833–1888)
    children: Virginia Minor (1859–1937)
    Wilson Cary Nicholas (1861–1923)
    Mary Buchanan (1865–1900)
    Julia Minor (1866–1946)
    in 1891 Mary McIntire (1855–1938)
    children: Elizabeth McIntire (1893–1966)
    Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1837–1871) married

    in 1870 Anna Daniel (1851–1873)
    children: Meriwether Lewis (1870–1877)
    Ellen Randolph Coolidge (1826–1894) married

    in 1855 Edmund Dwight (1824–1900)
    no children
    Joseph Randolph Coolidge (1828–1925) married

    in 1860 Julia Gardner (1841–1921)
    children: Joseph Randolph (1862–1928)
    John Gardner (1863–1936)
    Archibald Cary (1866–1928)
    Charles Apthorp (1868)
    Harold Jefferson (1870–1934)
    Julian Lowell (1873–1954)
    Algernon Sidney Coolidge (1830–1912) married

    in 1858 Mary Lowell (1835–1915)
    children: Algernon (1860–1936)
    Francis Lowell (1861–1942)
    Sydney (1864–1939)
    Ellen Wayles (1866–1953)
    Mary Lowell (1868–1957)
    Thomas Jefferson Coolidge (1831–1920) married

    in 1852 Mehitable Sullivan Appleton (1831–1901)
    children: Marian Appleton (1853–1924)
    Eleanora Randolph (1856–1912)
    Sarah Lawrence (1858–1922)
    Thomas Jefferson (1863–1912)
    Martha Jefferson Trist (1826–1915) married

    in 1858 John Woolfolk Burke (1825–1907)
    children: Nicholas Philip Trist (1859–1907)
    Frances Maury (1861–1933)
    John Woolfolk (1863–1865)
    Harry Randolph (1864–1947)
    Virginia Randolph (1866–1953)
    Ellen Coolidge (1868–1941)
    Edmund Jefferson (1870–1942)
    Thomas Jefferson Trist (1828–1890) married

    in 1858 Ellen Dorotea Strong Lyman
    no children
    after 1858 Sophia Knabe
    no children
    Hore Browse Trist (1832–1896) married

    in 1861 Anna Mary Waring
    children: Nicholas Browse (1862–1928)
    George Waring (1863–1884)
    Hore Browse (1865)
    Mary Helen (1872–1959)
    Isaetta Carter Randolph (1836–1888) married

    in 1860 James Lenaeus Hubard (1835–1913)
    children: Benjamin Randolph (1862–1942)
    Susan Bolling (1863–1894)
    James Thruston (1865–1882)
    Robert Thruston (1866–1923)
    Sarah Champe (1868–1903)
    Mary Randolph (1870–1930)
    Isaetta Carter (1872–1952)
    Bernard Markham
    Ellen Wayles
    Lewis Carter Randolph (1838–1887) married

    in 1867 Louisa Hubard (1845–1936)
    children: Robert Carter (1867–1939)
    Louise Hubard (1869–1951)
    Sarah Champe (1871–1959)
    Susan Bolling (1874–1929)
    Benjamin Franklin (1876–1951)
    Lewis Carter (1877–1934)
    Eugene Jefferson (1880–1950)
    Janet Thruston (1884–1951)
    Robert Mann Randolph (1851–after 1896) married

    in ca. 1880s Margaret Calhoun Harris
    no children
    William Moreland Meikleham (1839–1889) married

    in 1865 Frances Cassidy
    children: William Arabin (1866–1942)
    Thomas Mann Randolph (1869–1954)
    Frank Sydney (1872)
    Henry Parish (1872–1937)
    in 1887 Isabell Parlby Cuthbert
    no children
    Thomas Mann Randolph Meikleham (1840–1922) married

    in 1896 Frances Dash
    (there is uncertainty about this record)
    John Wayles Eppes (1825–1908) married

    in 1854 Josephine H. Bellamy
    children: Francis Eppes
    Eliza Wayles (1857–1898)
    Thomas Jefferson Eppes (1827–1872) married

    in 1859 Theodosia Burr Bellamy (1839–1872)
    children: Thomas Jefferson (1861–1910)
    Victoria (1862–unknown, but m. twice)
    Mary (1864–unknown, but m. once)
    Francis (1865–1892)
    Paul (1866–1868)
    Randoph (1868–1941)
    William Eston Eppes (1830–1896) married

    in 1854 Emily Bancroft (d. ca. 1870s)
    children: Matilda Bancroft (1855–1929)
    Elizabeth Cleland (1857–1881)
    Francis (1859–1921)
    James Bancroft (1860–1861)
    Lucy Bancroft (1861–1896)
    Jane Cary (1863)
    William Eston (1864–1945)
    John Wayles (1866–1874)
    Emily Bancroft (1868–1873)
    Edward Bancroft (1868–1918)
    Maria Jefferson (1871–1916)
    in 1877 Augusta Jones Kollock (d. 1896)
    no children
    Susan Frances Eppes (1839–1908) married

    in 1861 John Armstrong Craig (d. 1885)
    children: John Armstrong (1862–1927)
    Frances Maude (1870–1952)
    Francis Eppes (1872–1927)
    Maria Jefferson Eppes (1840–1897) married

    in 1868 William Francis Shine (d. 1910)
    children: Francis Eppes (1871–1922)
    Nicholas Ware Eppes (1843–1904) married

    in 1866 Susan Branch Bradford (1845–1942)
    children: Edward Bradford (1868–1934)
    Susan Ware (1871–1965)
    Francis (1874–1875)
    Martha Branch (1876–1964)
    Elizabeth Cleland (1882–1950)
    Alice Bradford (1886–1962)
    Martha Virginia Eppes (1847–1920) married

    in 1866 Thomas Jabez Shine (1842–1889)
    children: Lillias Eleanor (1867–1965)
    Francis Wayles (1874–1941)
    Richard Alexander (1876–1931)
    Thomas Jefferson (1881–1884)
    William Eston (1885–1913)
    in 1891 Henry Williston Greatham (d. before 1914)
    no children
    Robert Francis Eppes (1851–1894) married

    in 1881 Martha Rebecca Whitehead
    children: Amos Whitehead (1883–1890)
    Susan Margaret (1886–1971)
    Francis (1887)
    Thomas Jefferson (1890–1972)
    Sarah Ruth (1894–1981)
    Caroline Matilda Eppes (1857–1940) married

    in 1882 David Shepard Shine (d. 1939)
    children: Dudley Shepard (1886–1933)
    Wharton Hume (1887–1888)
    Cecil Eppes (1888–1963)
    Margaret Virginia (1890–unknown, but m. once)
    Lilias Eleanor (1894–1895)

    • And all those descendants of Jefferson are also probably descended from a village idiot somewhere along the line.

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