Cover image for Jefferson's children : the story of one American family
Jefferson's children : the story of one American family
Lanier, Shannon.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2000]

Physical Description:
144 pages : illustrations (some color), color map, portraits (some color) ; 27 cm
Reading Level:
910 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 7.1 6.0 45688.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 7.2 10 Quiz: 29572 Guided reading level: Y.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E332.2 .L35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E332.2 .L35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



On October 31, 1998, the Associated Press broke the news of the DNA findings linking Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings through the Eston Hemings line. On November 10, on national TV, Oprah united members of the Jefferson family and the descendants of the Eston, Madison, and Woodson lines of the Hemings family--and history was made. On this show, Lucian Truscott IV, a Jefferson descendant, issued an invitation to the Hemings family to come to a family reunion at Monticello. At the reunion, emotions ran high--and it was in this setting that photographer Jane Feldman met Shannon Lanier and the idea for this book was born. The authors have since traveled the country amassing historical materials and interviewing and photographing members of both sides of the family. This is the story of their journey, 200 years back in time, and back and forth across family and racial lines. It is not so much a story of black and white as it is a story about an American family.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-9. "My name is Shannon Lanier. I am a twenty-year-old descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings." In this unusual photo-essay, Lanier explores his family history and heritage, interviewing relatives he has known all his life and others he has only recently discovered, including some of Jefferson's descendants through his marriage to Martha Wayles Jefferson. The November 1998 announcement of DNA evidence of a connection between the Jefferson and Hemings families confirmed what many branches of the family had always known. Some of Sally's children had "passed" as white, resulting in a family with members who chose either a black or a white culture and others who did not know until recently that their background included both races. In this large, well-designed volume, each person or nuclear family is presented through a brief introduction and a few pages of reflections, accompanied by Jane Feldman's excellent, black-and-white photos. The personal statements provide well-expressed points of view about how family members see themselves, their heritage, and racial issues in the U.S. today. Although some statements are more engaging than others (and the complexities of family lines and multigenerations can at times be confusing), they form a verbal mosaic that may challenge readers to think about the meaning of race in our society. This thought-provoking presentation of oral history encourages young people to talk with their elders, listen to their family stories, and get to know their extended families. Lanier holds out the hopeful vision that his family's story can extend to include all Americans, since "we are, through our common history and our common blood, truly one American family." --Carolyn Phelan

Publisher's Weekly Review

"My name is Shannon Lanier. I am a twenty-year-old descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings," begins this thought-provoking, handsome volume designed to resemble a family photo album. Earnest and energetic, Lanier, Jefferson's fifth great-grandson through Sally Hemings's son Madison, brings both these qualities to his anecdotal narrative as he introduces descendents through both family lines and affectingly conveys the tension that surrounded some of his encounters. Describing the first Jefferson family reunion to which the Hemings relatives were invited, at Monticello in 1999, Lanier writes: "There were Jeffersons there who threw their arms around me, and one woman who looked at my outstretched hand and actually shuddered." Those responses are reflected in the profiles here, too, from Jane Floyd's (a descendant of Sally Hemings's and Jefferson's eldest son) articulate discussion of black history including the forming of the NAACP, to Jane Randolph Schluter's flat refusal to believe that Jefferson fathered Hemings's children ("In my family, it was always referred to as a rumor propagated by the Hemings family"). Not surprisingly, some of the subjects are more eloquent and have more compelling stories to recount than others (and some detail their family trees to such a degree that youngsters may get lost in the branches). But this makes a strong teaching tool and springboard for discussion on subjects as varied as understanding one's own genealogy and the devastating results of racial prejudice. Archival photographs supplement Feldman's crisp and candid black-and-white shots, which capture the essence of each subject. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-Twenty-year-old Lanier, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, delves into genealogy, oral history, photographs, and personal experience to trace the verifiable lineage of Jefferson and his wife, Martha Wayles, and the less certain lineage of Jefferson and Hemings. An American family emerges that embodies the diversity and the complexity of our multiracial society. The confirmed DNA connection between Jefferson and Sally's youngest son, Eston, inspired the family reunion of May 15, 1999. Despite the reluctance of the Monticello Association to acknowledge Jefferson's relationship with Hemings, the passion and pride of many black, white, and mixed descendants at the reunion prompted Lanier to explore his shared heritage. Traveling throughout the country, he visited Jefferson's descendants, recording their reminiscences and attitudes about their family tree. Through interviews with over 25 Jefferson and/or Hemings relatives, Lanier discovered that the "family's secret" had been kept by many families for generations. As social barriers relaxed in the last 30 years, Hemings family members have spoken up, articulating the oral history of their ancestry, researching their roots, and reflecting on the remarkable man and devoted servant from whom they originated. Through this collection of engaging contemporary testimonials and photographs of blacks and whites, young and old, Lanier sheds light not only on his own heritage but also on the understanding and pride that emerge when family history is explored.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.