Last week I was royally pissed when I saw someone tweet about their latest blog post in which they compare themselves, as an indebted person, to being enslaved.


I didn’t click on it because I title like that–and a subtitle that doubled down on the idea–is designed to garner clicks, and I’m not going to grant my precious clicks to some inane bullshit.

But here’s the deal. Debt can suck. It can drain what funds you have. It can restrict your mobility. Hamper your goals.


American slavery began as a transatlantic nightmare in which humans were corralled, then shoved on ships so tightly packed that in some cases, captains anticipated a 20% loss. Yep. The trip took about 6 weeks, six weeks of being chained to other humans, lying in your own filth, sometimes with corpses.

THEN those humans who survived were inspected like cattle and sold to the highest bidder so that they might work until they died of exhaustion–old age unlikely–doing backbreaking labor, usually in sugar or rice or tobacco.

One’s status was determined matrilineally–FUCKING CONVENIENT, GIVEN THE PATRIARCHY–which meant that rapacious owners could assault the women they owned regularly and then ENSLAVE THEIR OWN CHILDREN.

Those children became fodder for the internal slave trade, which was the same system, minus the transatlantic ship and now featuring boats from places like Virginia down the Mississippi, to places like Louisiana. And now they farmed King Cotton more than other crops.

Families were broken at the will of enslavers.  Runaways were beaten for daring to leave the system. If you look at runaway slave advertisements–readily available online–you can begin to see a pattern of injury descriptions that are concurrent with “hobbling” injuries–injuries to prevent further running away. Slave patrols–made of poor whites who wanted a piece of the system they could not buy themselves–beat even those slaves legally on the roads, nevermind runaways.

In Virginia for a long time if you “killed a slave in the course of correction“–beat them to death–the colony reimbursed you.

Modern slavery is only so different–secretive, where it was publicly acceptable before. Often overtly sexual in nature. Some undocumented immigrants also live in virtual slavery as housekeeping staff to those who exploit their status in order to keep hold of them indefinitely.


Out of respect for those who were enslaved and those who are, just stop it.

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Finance Friday: Yes, I Have a Side Gig (or, Additional Revenue Stream)

We’ve talked about having a side gig before on this blog–particularly the problems in how we discuss them and the implications therein. Today I’m going to tell you about mine. It’s truly a side project, secondary to my main job, something I do primarily on weekends and during the summer. It’s turned into a nice little revenue stream, largely because it has next to no overhead. And I can do it because I had the time to develop it and because my primary job enables me not to worry about making ends meet.

I am a genealogical consultant.

Chief for me when I considered embarking on a side project was doing something that was enjoyable, made use of my skills, and made me some worthwhile money.

I had been prowling Mr. Money Mustache for weeks and I saw lots of posts about sites like Task Rabbit. If I needed the income to pay my bills, Task Rabbit might have been ok, but I did not want to be tethered to someone’s needs for unpredictable, low cash. I didn’t want to end up exploited or abused, as can happen with task jobs (there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Bart does tons of work for an old lady and gets a measly quarter). I didn’t want to put myself in odd situations. As a woman in 2017, that concern is often forefront in my mind.

As for my skills, my main job is in the humanities–long the butt of jokes about uselessness in the employment world. I spent some serious time thinking about what I like to do, particularly during the summers when my regular contract is up. I’m a skilled historian with a good handle not just on the American past but the sources that help us decipher it. Some summers ago, I mapped our family tree back to the 1680s–I was hooked. So I set myself up as a summertime genealogical consultant. I’m not certified as such, but I do have a Ph.D. in history. I frame what I do as both fact-digging and narrative-telling: people love stories, and I hate facts without context. I’m really good at this kind of work.

Humanities critics can suck it.

I looked into what professional genealogists charge, and numbers ranged as high as $80 an hour. That seemed more than my market could potentially bear, I figured, especially since I lack the appropriate credentialing. So I charge half of that, and people pay it. It never fails to amaze me that people barely blink that I’m charging $40 an hour, or $375 for a ten-hour chunk. They hand over their Ancestry credentials (so far all of my clients have an account) and I dig in. Rates are higher if I have to use my own account, which is currently dormant. I may increase them to $50 for new clients this spring, after I do more research.

I’ve had three clients so far. People call me in for a range of reasons. Some have family mysteries they want help with. I’ve teased out a family’s complicated moving patterns and offered interpretations grounded in general US history for them. I’ve helped decipher nineteenth-century language choices. I’ve located a rabbi who was ministering in Brooklyn–a lost link in a family chain–on behalf of another. Most recently, I worked with a client whose family stretched back to Puritan settlement in Massachusetts. Family branches fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one side was deeply entrenched in propagating slavery.

I pull no punches and hide no truths. If your past is dark, that’s what I’m going to tell you.

I love this gig.

I love it so much I’m doing some consulting–albeit rarely–during the academic year. People are often surprisingly vulnerable during the searching process; they’re sharing intimate parts of their family histories, their pain.  It’s an honor to bear witness to them and to help people process their pasts.

Plus, they like to brag: my current client delights in telling her friends she’s meeting with her own personal genealogist. I only hope they book me, too.

My goal is to turn this little enterprise into something that yields at least $10k/year. I’ve made over $2k this year and I haven’t put much into marketing it. My goal was $1k, so I’m doing a smashing job. The three jobs I’ve had came through a single FB post on a local page: a woman who saw it told her friend who hired me, and she told two friends who hired me. Three of those setups a year would put me over the moon and close to goal. One of my current clients will join me for a presentation at the local library next spring that I hope will yield more clients.

Shameless plug:

If you’d like to work with me on tracing your family heritage, let me know! I’ll send you the link to my personal site and credentials once you check out as a non-bot non-threatening actually interested human. While there are some things–like sorting your family photos–I cannot do online, I can search and communicate with you easily by phone and by email. I can’t promise all the results you might want, but I’m a tenacious digger with a keen sense of seeing where clues lead. Want your own history detective? Hire me.


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Well, If it isn’t another white man with a gun

By now you’d have to live under a rock to have missed this week’s edition of “there’s a mass shooting, but let’s not talk about it.” Once again, a young white man obtained military-style weapons and took his rage out on innocent people. And while we’ve all offered Hopes and Prayers (trademark pending) and wrung our hands over the State of the World, I’d say it’s safe we stop here and wait until next week to start the cycle again. If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. As a nation we refuse to discuss the actual factors these things have in common and so we insist there’s nothing we can do. Tho there is.

Probably by now you’ve seen that the shooter this week had a domestic violence record. We know that many if not most of the men who propagate these kinds of massacres have some history of hitting their partners, who are overwhelmingly women. We know that men who hit women often do so out of rage, out of a sense of ownership, and because violence is a means of demonstrating power. Similar things could be said of why people shoot up innocents–it’s about anger, power. We know that there’s a whole culture in the US of men who feel entitled to women’s time, attention, and genitals, and who fly into a rage when they feel they’re not getting their due (see MRA douchebags). Similarly, these men seem to feel entitled to shoot up others in their anger. We have what’s called a correlation here–men who perpetuate massacres often hit their wives and girlfriends. This is not to say that domestic violence alone isn’t a problem that needs eradication on its own merits–it absolutely does–but that there’s also a predictor here that our society is ignoring.

So let’s contemplate that situation. Why isn’t anyone at the policy-making level looking at this?

My argument is that if you don’t generally see women as autonomous individuals–human beings–you don’t see hitting them as a problem. If you see women as a caste subordinate to men, you might see them as hittable when they step out of place. You probably run the whole list of “well, she must have done something to deserve this” excuses through your head before you ponder what’s wrong with the male who did the hitting. As a nation, that’s where we’ve been headed more overtly lately. Take, for example, the Violence Against Women Act, which our current Department of Justice hates. As a senator, Jeff Sessions said the bill wasn’t “sound” and so voted against it. Recently, an undocumented teenager was held hostage by the Justice Department, which wouldn’t let her get an abortion until weeks later, she and the ACLU won a lawsuit against them. Our own VP calls his wife “mother,” and our president has public recordings of his brags about assaulting women. A Wisconsin lawmaker recently gave a speech in which he alleged abortion hurt the economy, as it eliminates potential members of the labor force–women, in such a scenario, are just breeders. These are just a few example at the highest levels–you can peruse any number of websites to see much more run-of-the-mill discussion of women as object, breeder, housekeeper, and not autonomous humans.

A consequence of not seeing women as autonomous humans (literally, culturally, or otherwise) is that domestic violence against women is not taken seriously. Sure, we’ve got lip service, but look at how stuff plays out. The NFL has plenty of players who have records–no one cares. Women who fear deportation don’t report, because they are especially non-people–women AND of color AND undocumented. Dual-arrest laws, in which both members of a fight are apprehended, were well-intentioned efforts to defuse fights between partners and sort out what happened have led to declines in reporting by victims who don’t want an arrest record. NPR here talks about a woman who had several restraining orders against her ex, but still would be arrested if she called for help.

So if, as a nation, we have a track record of seeing women as non-persons and if we don’t take domestic violence as seriously as we might and we combine that with white supremacy, well, here we are.

Because whiteness is a key piece here. Overwhelmingly, the men murdering civilians in theaters, in churches, at concerts, are white. And we have a system that functions to hold white men in place at the top–we have a patriarchal, white supremacist system. So when you and I say, “DAMMIT if we’re not going to talk about gun bans, can we talk about banning men who engage in domestic violence from having access to them?” we get a firm “tut tut” and no desire to engage from our dear congresspeople. Overwhelmingly. And the reason for that is that if they begin to look at this shit–REALLY look at it–they’re going to note that white men who don’t see women as humans, who feel entitled to women, are carrying it out, and then for many congressmen, they’ll see themselves. Perched atop the patriarchal white supremacist pinnacle, investigating the commonalities among those men and deciding to hold them responsible implicates those men and implicates themselves.

So until we’re rid of those men in the echelons of government, beholden not just to the gun lobby but to a vision of themselves in which they are entitled as white men to all the spoils, we won’t see an end to the carnage.

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