The construction of ethnoracial identity within situational contexts: A study of triracial family histories

Samuel M Lemon, University of Pennsylvania


Based largely on data collected from oral history interviews, this study examines the construction of triracial ethnoracial identities (African American-Caucasian-American Indian). Here in-depth narratives and analyses of two triracial family histories surface the complex, dynamic, and interactional social contingencies that act on individual and family psychologies to share ethnic identity; these processes are illustrative of the anthropological construct of situationality. In the role of a participant observer, the author reports the history of his own family, the Ridleys of Media, Pennsylvania, which he compiled from the family's oral tradition, genealogies and archival documents, and the U.S. Census. His narrative revolves around three prominent family members on his mother's side: Cornelius, a venerated, light-complexioned ancestor who escaped from slavery on an antebellum plantation in southeastern Virginia, and "passing" as white fled north to Pennsylvania on the Underground Railroad in the 1860s; Josefa, a mysterious, legendarily clairvoyant woman from the Danish West Indies, who married into the Ridley family in the 1880s; and Maud, the author's remarkable maternal grandmother, whose story begins in Media, Pennsylvania, in the 1890s. The author's narrative history of the Harveys, another triracial family of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, well known to the author, offers illuminating points of comparison and contrast with the Ridleys. Concepts and arguments drawn from the fields of cultural theory, social history, and Southern literature provide the theoretical framework for the study.* *This dissertation is a compound document (contains both a paper copy and a CD as part of the dissertation). The CD requires the following system requirements: Adobe Photoshop; Roxio; CD Now.

Subject Area

African Americans|Cultural anthropology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Native Americans|Native studies

Recommended Citation

Lemon, Samuel M, "The construction of ethnoracial identity within situational contexts: A study of triracial family histories" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3270863.