"We are really two parallel societies in America," says Dain Perry, a cousin and financial representative from Boston who joined the trip, "and those two societies don't know how to communicate.... [It's] only through telling our stories and listening to each other's stories ... that we can be healed as a nation."
Only a few family members knew each other before their travels. Ellie Hale lives in Seattle, and says her branch of the family had lost touch with its roots. She also felt little connection to the need for racial dialogue and reconciliation. But Katrina's invitation piqued her interest.
"I thought the trip would be difficult, and I was right about that," she says in a phone interview from Sundance. "But I started off with a readiness to listen, and now I feel like I can actually open my heart to hear."
The adventurous family members from around the country met on July 4, 2001, to begin their journey in Bristol. The DeWolfs were "the great folks" of Bristol in the late 18th and early 19th century, with James DeWolf becoming the second-richest man in America. They visited his stately mansion, Linden Place, which is now a city museum.
The group delved into files from the 1760s to the 1820s, which revealed the details of the family's burgeoning wealth, including ships, a rum distillery, plantations in Cuba, an auction house, a bank, and an insurance company. They found that Bristol was the center of the slave trade after the Revolutionary War.