Sunday, November 29, 2009

Genealogy is Like Love

Genealogy is like love - it is nothing until you give it away.

The reason for this blog, for doing genealogy in general, is to share with others.  Whether they are family members, future generations or as of yet unknown cousins, I want to be able to share and learn from my family history.  As a rule, the genealogical community shares my beliefs that family information is best shared and not hoarded.

Which is why I was pleased this Thanksgiving weekend to be able to help, in some small part, in spreading the love of genealogy.  Thanks to Facebook, I was contacted by a gentleman who had found one of my posts on the particular family and contacted me.  While he was not related to this family, he had been helping a friend trace their family and had come up against a brick wall, and wanted to know if I could help.  Sharing my phone number, we soon were chatting over the phone and I was able to fill in some blanks, and later sent emails with the missing information for his friend.

The reason this friend was having so much difficulty in getting beyond her grandfather was due to a change in the family surname.  This slight change in the surname occurred shortly after a family scandal involving a murder/suicide.  As most family scandals go, this one was a pretty big one.  When I was first told of the murder/suicide by another researcher several years ago, that particular researcher advised that the facts of the murder/suicide were unknown in the current generation and unspoken by earlier generations.  Mind you, this event took place in 1896!  Over 100 years later, and there were still those who would want to "hide" the truth in order to "protect" someone.  Just who they would be protecting was not clear.

In all my years of researching my family, I have found several of these "scandals" in the family.  Many that would have been scandalous in their time are simply ho-hum today.  The facts are stubborn things, particularly in a genealogy.  No matter how unpleasant, we have a duty to record the facts as they occurred.  If someone reads my blog and wants to judge me for the supposed failings of my ancestors, there is nothing I can do about it.  Besides, the divorces, suicides, arrests, etc. are what make the newspapers.  Without these sensational stories, what would the genealogist have to report about?

Funny thing is, non-genealogists who gather at family reunions, etc. want to know about the famous and infamous ancestors and the interesting facts about their lives.  The ancestor who always paid his taxes, loved his family and worked hard all his life, yet left few records gets a short shrift to the ne'er-do-well relative who is in and out of jail, married four times and dies in a bar room brawl.  People are people, and our ancestors were no different.  To try to sugar coat the truth and protect the innocent of today from the embarrassing actions of someone you share DNA with that occurred over 100 years ago seems an exercise in futility to me.

I am no more responsible for the actions or lack of actions of my ancestors than I am for my next door neighbor.

Share those family stories and facts so that the truth is not lost to future generations, no matter how unpleasant.  Besides, the dead cannot be embarrassed, only the living.


Barbara Poole said...

Great piece. I enjoyed reading it.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...


Thank you for sharing this great information and advise. I hope we each remember it as we tell our ancestor stories.

Keep up the good work.

Bill ;-)

Joan Miller said...

This is a great post and a good point about recording the scandals et al. Most families have them.

Thanks for your post.