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Slaves in the Family

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,660 Ratings  ·  204 Reviews
Journalist Ball confronts the legacy of his family's slave-owning past, uncovering the story of the people, both black and white, who lived and worked on the Balls' South Carolina plantations. It is an unprecedented family record that reveals how the painful legacy of slavery continues to endure in America's collective memory and experience. Ball, a descendant of one of th ...more
Paperback, 505 pages
Published December 29th 1998 by Ballantine Books (first published February 1st 1998)
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Sep 10, 2011 Drick rated it really liked it
Edward Ball, the descendant of South Carolina slave masters, sets out to trace the lineage of the slaves who lived on his ancestors' plantations. Through amazing detective work, Ball is able to locate and re-tell the story of many of his family's slaves, some of whom were the offspring of master-slave sexual relations, and therefore distant relatives. Through a combination of meticulous research, general understanding of the history of the times, and imagination, Ball tells the other story of sl ...more
Aug 05, 2014 Benjamin rated it it was amazing
It takes a lot of courage to cold call black people and be like, "Hi, my great-grandfather owned your great-grandmother. Can I come over so we can talk about it?" and then actually show up and talk about all the consequences of slavery. It seems like families that can trace their ancestry back to a specific plantation or person are more stable and generally more church-y and so more likely to be forgiving or at least moving past it. But even before that, it takes a lot of courage to even allow y ...more
Jan 29, 2009 Carol rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Our book group discussed this last evening. We felt Edward Ball was brave to tackle this topic, despite his unpopularity with his family and some readers. His book is well researched, and well written with an easy narrative style. Our group, very yankee and very white wondered how our discussion would have been different if we had a representative from the south and/or a Black American. The subject of slavery is never an easy one, bringing many emotions and unspoken, unresolved issues to the for ...more
Feb 06, 2010 Caitlin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
This is the second time I've read this book and I was as pleased with it this time as the first time. This is the story of the author's research into his family's past as slave owners and slave traders. Through painstaking research and wonderful storytelling Ball tracks down his ancestors, both white and black, and tells the story of slavery in this country from the point of view of one prominent family.

We often think of slavery in terms of the Civil War. It's all Gone With The Wind and Mammy an
Jun 30, 2012 Graceann rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, history
Edward Ball is descended from one of the largest slaveholding families in the South. At their busiest, the many plantations owned by the Ball families contained over 1,000 slaves. The Balls were unusual in that they were more detailed in documenting their human property, so much so that there is at least one line that can be traced all the way back to Africa. Anyone who watches "Who Do You Think You Are?" knows how rare that is.

It's difficult for me to say how disappointed I was with Slaves in
Feb 09, 2012 Lark rated it really liked it
This geneology- laced memoir was very interesting ! I had heard about this book several years ago and just found it. Written by the descendant of plantation owners, Edward Ball makes a diligent effort to find and understand the perspective of his own ancestors and the people they enslaved.

I was saddened by the defensiveness of his family - surely we can all agree that slavery is indefensible? The Balls were a people of their time, but every human has a conscience and knowing the wrongs of your a
Christina Dudley
Apr 10, 2016 Christina Dudley rated it really liked it
I heard about this book through reading Thulani Davis' MY CONFEDERATE KINFOLK, and I'm glad I followed up. Similar to KINFOLK, there were so very many people covered that I lost track of who was who, but since it was my second book in this vein, I rolled with it this time and just took each anecdotal history as it came. As a descendant of the oppressors, rather than the oppressed, Ball's tone is understandably gentler than Davis'--who occasionally could get rather acid (again, understandably), a ...more
Aug 25, 2010 Gail rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in Charleston at the gift store in the Aiken house. Reading it while in South Carolina gave a good context for the historic sites I was seeing. It's taken me a little under a month to finish. At times it was slow moving, but the book was at its best when Ball described conversations with people. He did an amazing amount of research to trace back bloodlines. This is an important book. I felt confused by the end where he goes to Sierra Leone to find the descendants of the slave ...more
Kelsey Dangelo
Feb 09, 2015 Kelsey Dangelo rated it it was amazing
“…the plantations shadowed my dreams. The Balls live side by side with black families for six generations, but the story, as I knew it, was divided in two. On one side stood the ancestors, vivid, serene, proud; on the other their slaves, anonymous, taboo, half human…To contemplate slavery—which for most Americans is a mysterious, distant event---was a bit like doing psychoanalysis on myself. Did the plantations form part of my identity?”
“the dead fed the dreams of the living.”
“It didn’t hurt me,
Jan 25, 2014 Brandee rated it really liked it
I put off reading this for awhile even though I have had it a few months. I wondered if I could stay focused all the way through because it seemed like it would be a tedious read and I wanted to really be able to give it the respect it deserves. So, I took the plunge and it was incredible. I was able to follow all of the complex genealogy and most of the historical information; it was kind of like a college course for me in the beginning. I learned a lot, and then the emotions came--it was hard ...more
Clif Hostetler
Oct 06, 2015 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is written by a descendant of a South Carolina slave holding family who used his family's records to search for and find many of the living descendants of the slaves who had been owned by his ancestors. The narrative tells the stories of his search and his many interviews, and along the way he also tells the history of slavery in America. As best I can tell, the book tells things like they really were and doesn't try to protect his family's reputation. It's interesting to note that man ...more
Feb 05, 2013 Helen rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
This book makes great reading for anyone interested in genealogical research, slavery and the history of the American South. Edward Ball has made an important contribution to those fields with this extensively-researched look at plantation life near Charleston, SC. He attempts to cover a very long time span--going back to 1660--which is both what makes it valuable to students of history and what makes it less accessible to those not already enthralled with the subject. There are so many Ball rel ...more
May 11, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing
This book speaks to me in a very personal way. I, too, come from a southern family, and my ancestors also owned slaves. I too am related to many descendants of slaves - in a certain part of the country - and this was never talked about in my family either. Edward Ball smashed down the barrier between the history that is spoken of, and the history that is real. He covered his story from both sides of the Ball family...from descendants of the slaveowners to descendants of the slaves.

Did you know t
Jul 05, 2009 Gill rated it it was amazing
This award winning (national book award) was sheer pleasure to read. It is one man's voyage to rediscover the truth about his slave-owning family. Going on this voyage with him offers a fascinating glimpse into our nation's history, and teaches us that here really is no such thing as 'black' or 'white'
Aug 14, 2008 Caeru rated it really liked it
A history/biography about the plantation and slave-owning family Ball and the people they owned. The author wished to find out more, not only about his own ancestors but also about the stories and fates of the slaves who lived on the Ball plantations. Very interesting and engaging read.
Jun 01, 2015 HeavyReader rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: students of slavery in the Southern U.S. and South Carolina history
This book is fantastic!

At its most basic level, it's the true story of a man (the author, Edward Ball) who is the descendent of a slave-owning family from the Southern United States. Ball grew curious about the people his family once owned and went on a quest to learn about those slaves and their descendents. His quest took him across the U.S., as well as to Sierra Leon, the point in Africa where the forced labor of many slaves began.

On a broader level, this book is a history of slave trading an
Having read "The Hemingses of Monticello" by Annette Gordon-Reed, I was interested when "Slaves in the Family" showed up as a Pinterest selection. As I read, I continually referenced the former book in my memory and how the liberty of life was so different in both scenarios. Both entailed the servitude of slavery but Jefferson insisted on some form of dignity for everyone. Not so in South Carolina. As a Canadian, I found the history of the origins of slavery interesting, that the word slave was ...more
Heidi Scanlon
Jun 09, 2014 Heidi Scanlon rated it liked it
Slaves in the Family is the product of research by Edward Ball whose ancestors were important slave owners from the state of South Carolina. He researched his white ancestors, descendants of the slaves they owned and African American relatives who were the offspring of some of the male slaveowners. I'd heard of this book several years ago so I was really excited to finally have a chance to read it. The excitement didn't last long, however. I found the beginning slow and had trouble keeping all t ...more
Mar 21, 2014 Marty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel “Slaves in the Family for me was a book of discovery, and learning as I was amazed as the author progressed in his research around the US and Africa to speak with people whose ancestors were slaves on his ancestors plantations.

This novel details an incredible journey through history about how one man began an empire of plantation life with slave labor. For the author to bring to light the truth was an embarrassment for some of his family and the detailed confirmed discovery for many Af
May 04, 2013 Tabitha rated it really liked it
How to review this book. It is history and anthropology, sociology and mythology. What shines through, though, is its humanity. On both the desire and goal of the author, Edward Ball, but also on behalf of those individuals once owned by the Ball family in South Carolina. Perhaps the passage most striking to me detailed everything known about the first slave the Ball family ever bought. Her name was Bella and is only referenced once, as a woman given 3 yards of cloth by Elias Ball on November 10 ...more
This book by Edward Ball took me a week or so to read. Though some parts are a little dry, the subject matter is very compelling. Growing up, Ball knew his family had at one time owned slaves, but the family did not encourage conversation on this topic. Needing to know more, he began researching and trying to find the descendants of the slaves his family had owned. Not all greeted him with open arms and some of his own family members were hostile. Through the process he found several people who ...more
Jan 17, 2015 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Such a fascinating book! The book is so well written that it holds your attention even though there is a lot of genealogical material in it. Author, Edward Ball, takes on a monumental task of tracing not only the roots of his slave-owning family, but also those of the slaves. Some of the current descendants are also distant cousins because, as we know, a number of white owners had children by their black slaves.

Ball has done an amazing amount of research & his family kept meticulous records
May 04, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
I found this book very interesting and quite moving. In it the author, a member of an old plantation-owning family established in South Carolina since before the Revolution, sets out to trace the descendants of slaves owned by his family and uncover their stories. It's his attempt to come to terms with his family's history, and it's a remarkably honest and unflinching book, all the more so considering many members of his family were quite reluctant for him to write it, and he faced some hostilit ...more
Jun 30, 2009 Catherine rated it really liked it
I had a personal reason for reading this book. I (a white woman) found out that my great grandfather was the son of a black woman & white slave owner) that had worked and her family had worked on a plantation for decades. I have tried without results to find more of their lives. This book is about a descendant of a slave owner contacting the descendants of the slaves that worked the plantation. Although not particularly well written, this strikes at my very core and I feel more connected. I ...more
Lenora Rogers
Oct 01, 2012 Lenora Rogers rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, it has to be one of my favorites. I have always loved learning about the genealogy of my family. The hardship of slaves and what they went through and learning that you are related to some, it just goes to show that color doesn't matter family does. I know the some slave women were used by their owners and I really feel for them. I am glad you wrote this book because it shows that we may have relatives that were once slaves. I think it is great that you trace this line of your ...more
Eliza Thompson
Apr 23, 2016 Eliza Thompson rated it really liked it
Long but well worth it. . Edward Ball like myself is both fascinated and horrified with the system of American Slavery. Having always known his family owned slaves and owed their wealth to thousand of unknown enslaved Africans, the author sets out to research his family history and discovers that the Balls were one of the largest slave holders in the south, owning 25 plantations and over 4,000 people. He does a masterful job of getting in touch with the descendants of those enslaved, and through ...more
Oct 05, 2012 Phillip rated it it was amazing
I loved this book it showed the darker side of a distant branch of my family. Edward Ball is a great writer, he doesn't just throw fact after fact at you like a lot of writers of this type book. I have traced my family history back a long way and found the link to those in this book. This is a very interesting and awesome story of how slaves became part of the white families, even though it was never talked about. It makes us think twice before we judge men like Thomas Jefferson, for being with ...more
Jan 18, 2016 Josie rated it really liked it
This is an important book. I read it like an unearthing of the complicated relationships between black people and white people in our history; how time has defined those words, and what it takes for a white person to take responsibility for the past actions of his family. I think that work like this is important for the healing process of a destructive and dysfunctional past. So much reconciliation still needs to happen for us around slavery. Peacemaking takes real practice and diligence. I foun ...more
Sep 06, 2015 Jane rated it liked it
Anyone white, European-Americans who have done some family history research that links them back to slave owning Southern families before the Civil War should read this book. I wish many descendants of slaves could read this book and know that their distant cousins can indeed experience some of the emotional toll of the diabolical system that harmed so many people--yet inadvertently brought us the many cultural riches that gleam in the American fabric.
I read this book several years ago, but I was inspired by the way he wove family tales and historical records together to tell the story about the slaves owned by his ancestors, the Ball family (many generations, actually). As an amateur genealogist, I have read many dry family history books. Edward Ball's book inspires me to, one day, write a book like this about my own family. He brought these people to life and it was a fascinating read.
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Great reminder 1 13 Jan 02, 2010 07:52AM  
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  • Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White
  • Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present
  • The Hemingses of Monticello
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
  • Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery
  • It's the Little Things: Everyday Interactions That Anger, Annoy, and Divide the Races
  • One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets
  • Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery
  • All God's Children
  • John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights
  • Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South
  • Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black
  • White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812
  • Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America
  • The Plantation Mistress
  • Mary Chesnut's Civil War
  • Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian
Edward Ball was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1958, grew up in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. He finished high school in New Orleans and attended Brown University, graduating in 1982 with a B.A. in Semiotics.

He received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1984, and afterwards moved to New York City, where he worked as a freelance art critic, writing about film, art, arc
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