How Much Should I Tell?

I was always interested in family history. One of my earliest memories is asking my great-grandmother what it was like to live through the turn of the century. I was around 5 at the time, following up on a suggestion I heard on the radio or tv. Family was always important to me.

But it has also been a disappointment. I’m the black sheep of my family. I’m the daughter who was kicked out and told to never come back…

Time passes, and eventually they did let me back in. Before my mom died she told me she wanted me to have her family history research. I think that was hard for her – given our rocky relationship, but, in her words, I was “the only one who seemed interested.”

After she died, getting my hands on her notebooks was another story. Still the black sheep, and not the only one interested. But I have tried to do what I can to honor my mother’s wishes.

The problem I have now is that my approach to family is so much different than my mother’s. In my mother’s world, you never “speak ill” of the dead. Which basically means everyone that has passed on gets a nice, white-washed history. They all lived the perfect life in their perfectly happy families.

As Anna Karenina said: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Is it any wonder that so many people find genealogy to be boring?

But I know there are skeletons in that closet. When my mother asked her father about his family he told her something about not looking too close because of horse thieves and gamblers.

Which only makes me want to look closer. I am interested in them all. I want to know the secrets and scandals. I want all the dirt…

But how much dirty laundry (as my mother would call it) do you really want to hang out on the Internet?

One of the things about family history is that, like any other history, the last person standing gets to have the final word. Seems to me that’s as good a reason as I can think of why you should start your family history with your own personal history. Write those memoirs – if you don’t, someone else will.

I’ve seen the things my mother wrote about me in her GEDCOM. It’s the reason I don’t just upload her files to the family tree websites. Not just what she said about me, but how much of it I know for a fact is her opinion, and not really how it was. Which makes me wonder if notes about other relatives are the same. If she like you then your bio might be polished up to shine more than it should. If she didn’t, then she might “just ask questions” that make the reader think less of you.

I think for official sites I’ll just stick to the fact and let the reader draw their own conclusions. But over here on my blog, I might get more creative and as questions of my own. Oh, but how juicy can we get?

I can’t answer that just yet. I like to make up stories. I used to write fan fiction. Can a person write fan fiction about their family tree? And if it’s fiction, then I suppose I should change the names and a few other identifying facts before Iet my imagination run lose. But then it’s not really “history” anymore…

On the other hand. I think the most important thing about family is that you accept one another, flaws and all. I don’t need to pretend people were perfect in order to love them. In fact, I think that love means you don’t have to be perfect.

I also think that there are lessons to be learned from other people’s mistakes and misfortunes. I don’t want to sweep it all under the rug and pretend anything less than ideal doesn’t exist.

It’s a question I will have to answer as I go along.

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