I’ve done quite a few double takes while researching the maternal side of my family. First it was my great-great grandmother, Narcis Pinkard, who had given birth to 12 children before her 40th birthday, but only half survived childhood. One of those children, Shack Pinkard, was shot to death on New Years Day in 1922. Then there was 14 year-old Dorsey Pinkard, a nephew and namesake of my great-grandfather, who  died after being kicked by a mule in 1947.

But what really gave me pause was the racial classification of my ancestors.

In a 20-year span, my maternal ancestors go from black to mulatto to black again. I read for more context and found out that a mulatto classification didn’t necessarily designate a person with one black parent and one white parent. It could, but sometimes it meant the Census taker looked at the person and saw evidence of something other than black.

I asked my mom if she knew anything about the physical features of her grandparents or great-grandparents, either from memory or what she was told.

“I know that my mom had beautiful brown skin,” she told me.

My maternal grandmother, Lula Pinkard (nee Bryant) (1925-1983). This picture was taken in June 1978.

That made my heart smile.

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