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The storyteller

Dr. Larry H. Spruill

Larry H. Spruill doesn’t do genealogy. He grabs it, embraces it, adopts it. He wraps his arms and a silver tongue around it, and he makes it sing.

And the song it sang yesterday here at the Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research was the song of the storyteller every bit as much as it was the story of the people whose genealogy he had so carefully researched.

A professor of history at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Dr. Spruill breathed life into the long-dead story of Benjamin Turner, a freed slave and landowner in Westchester County, New York, who was born c1774 and died in 1833. Skillfully weaving a wide variety of records — newspapers, church records, land and tax records, town histories, court records and so much more — into a compelling tale of a man once dismissed as nothing more than “a Negro… a squatter,” Spruill revealed almost as much about himself as about the Turner family in a riveting performance that — by itself — would make a week at IGHR worth the price.

“We are miracle workers,” he declared. “We raise the dead, we perform resurrections. We are the gate keepers to the secret abode of our ancestors. … while searching for others we often find ourselves.”

And, he said, this thing we do, this genealogy, “it’s a calling, we’ve been called to do this, we get smitten with the calling and we cannot not do it.”

Then he shared a poem he wrote just days ago while preparing for this institute — for this incredible immersion into this calling — and graciously gave permission to share it here:

At the Roots of Rainbows

     I am a pilgrim,
     a sojourner;
     a seeker
     of scattered forgotten truth
     buried in dark earthen tombs.
     Born to chase elusive rainbows.
     Called to dig at their roots.
     I am a storyteller,
     the gate keeper of secrets
     with blessings for humanity.
     I am an oracle for ancestors
     seeing, hearing and doing
     what others won’t.
     I am an agent of new life
     digging at
     the roots of rainbows.
     I am a storyteller.

     Larry H. Spruill, June 7, 2012

Would that we all could tell our families’ stories half so well…

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