"12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen with descendants of Solomon Northup

“12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen with a group of descendants of Solomon Northup

*The Hollywood Reporter recently brought together five generations from the family tree of Solomon Northup, whose story is depicted in the Oscar nominated film “12 Years a Slave.” [Click through to watch video of the gathering.]

Many in Northup’s direct lineage have known about their ancestor’s odyssey from an early age — he has been the subject of many a school project — and several return to his hometown of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., annually for the city’s Solomon Northup Day, which just celebrated its 15th year. Still, seeing their forefather’s ordeal on the big screen stirred fresh emotions and renewed hopes that Northup’s story — and, by extension, the personal experience of all slaves — will not be forgotten.

“It was hard to watch, knowing it was someone who had a hand in creating me,” says Leonard Holton Jr., 28, a fourth great-grandson of Northup who lives in Alexandria, Va.

Descendants of Solomon Northup

Descendants of Solomon Northup

Descendant Carol Adams-Sally, 72, of Waterloo, N.Y., said, “My high school friends never absorbed it too well: ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was like that,’ Oh please. All you had to do was open your eyes.”

She can take heart that future generations in her own family and beyond now are paying attention.

“Growing up hearing the story and then seeing it gave me mixed feelings,” says Milan Linzy, 15, of Valencia, Calif. “I was upset because of what happened, but excited that I finally got to see this real thing.”

Despite their generational, geographic and, yes, racial diversity, Northup’s heirs identify common threads. Says Rebecca Bicksler, a white fifth-generation descendant who lives in upstate New York: “There are people in our family who are very strong, and I think they get that from Solomon’s side.”

Click here to view portraits of each family member.