Standing in Judgment of Our Ancestors

Standing in judgement of our ancestors may be unavoidable. Genealogists dig up the good, the bad, and the ugly. We cannot pick and choose what we find, but we might be able to pick what and how we share it with others.

download backblaze

Recently, I received a letter from a Gem’s reader which included a very delicate and sensitive matter. She writes:

Hi Lisa!

I love your blog and podcast. Thank you for all you do getting gems together for us!  I have a question for you and would love to know your opinion (or the opinion of anyone else as well!)

I was recently at a family wedding. I printed out all the family and ancestor’s paper trails and documents and was passing them around to my aunt, uncles, and cousins. My mom’s eldest brother brought up a memory he had of his grandfather, my great-grandfather, a German immigrant. My uncle whispered it to me because the saying my great-grandfather often said is very prejudice. I won’t tell you what the quote is but it’s prejudice against Jewish, Irish, and Dutch people. Here’s my question – should I write down that my great-grandfather was prejudice against certain people to preserve this part of his character or should I let this information fade into history? As genealogists we are always trying to get a full view of the person we are researching – past the census records, military service paperwork, and wills – and into the real person and personality. So, I now have a more broad view of my great-grandfather, but it’s negative. Should I preserve this character flaw in my ancestry notes? I’m conflicted about what to do. Maybe if this was a further distanced relative I would have an easier time brushing aside this prejudice but I’m having a hard time with the “right thing to do.” Any advice would be wonderful!

As a side note I will tell you that in the following generations this mans’ children and grandchildren have married Irish and Jewish spouses. Haha. I guess the “saying” was never echoed by his descendants!

Thanks,
Jennifer

Judgement of Our Ancestors

This is a great question and I applaud you for thoughtfully taking a moment to really think it through and ask for advice before moving forward on recording what you were told.

 
You asked – Should I write down that my great-grandfather was prejudice against certain people to preserve this part of his character or should I let this information fade into history? My opinion is, no. Mother Lisa says this is gossip and you didn’t hear it straight from your great-grandfather. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone else attributing a negative comment to me without having the chance to review or rebuke it. It’s a slippery slope.
 
judgement of our ancestors

Little Tea & Gossip by Robert Payton Reid, Source: http:⁄⁄www.liveinternet.ru⁄users⁄pmos_nmos⁄post357791815⁄

 

You also asked – Should I preserve this character flaw in my ancestry notes? And there’s the slippery slope. I believe that we, in modern times, should avoid sitting in judgement of ancestors who are not here to defend themselves. We don’t want to presume that we are in a position to decide how wrong “the crime” is. We certainly don’t want to be negatively prejudiced against others ourselves, but it is impossible to put oneself in another’s shoes in a differing time and circumstance. We know nothing about what the person really said. Perhaps they were joking (even though in extremely bad taste!) Maybe the person who heard this, and passed it on, had an ax to grind and part or none of it is true. Or, maybe there was an experience that our ancestor suffered that could have given him a reason to gripe based on his personal experience. You just don’t know.

In my book, I would chalk this up to gossip and either prove it with substantiated evidence or move on. What goes around comes around so let’s hope it will prevent an occurrence of someone gossiping about you and your future descendant spreading it into the ages.

 

Deciding to Write the Whole Story

In cases where you have secured substantial evidence that a negative story is true, you still have a choice to make. When I come across particularly sensitive or negative information about an ancestor, and before I make it public, I ask myself, “who will this help, and who will it hurt?” Does adding it to the family history enrich it? Is there anyone living today who might be hurt? If someone stands to be injured, but you’re set on capturing the story, I encourage you to do so privately for your own records and of course, cite all of your sources.

 
If you do decide to write and publish sensitive stories, I know that you will want to do so in as gentle and fair a way as possible. Here are some things to consider when writing about delicate stories of our ancestors:
  • Be sure to cite your source – who told you the story and when. The reader can decide whether to take the story with a grain of salt or believe it.
  • Let your readers know your reason for sharing the story in the first place. Genealogy Gems blogger Amie Tennant recently read a family history that included a horrible childhood memory. The writer stated it was important to put the family dynamics in full view so that other stories would be seen in the “right light.”
  • If naming everyone in the story will cause hurt or embarrassment, consider documenting the essence of the story without naming names.

Whatever you decide, writing a family history, though difficult at times, can be a rewarding experience.

 

Celebrating 1000 Genealogy Blog Posts: #7 in the Top 10 Countdown

The Social Security Applications and Claims Index was one of 2015’s most important new online resources for U.S. researchers (keep reading to see the other). No n Genealogy Countdown #7wonder it made the #7 spot on this week’s Top 10 genealogy blog post countdown!

This summer, Ancestry.com quietly released a major addition to its U.S. record resources. We already rely on the Social Security Death Index to help us find 20th-century relatives. But so many of us have lamented at how limited is the info in that index, and how expensive to order the original application when there’s no guarantee we’ll find the person’s parents names (which are requested on the form).

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims IndexI’m guessing that’s why Lisa’s post on Ancestry’s new Social Security Applications and Claims Index made the #7 spot on our genealogy blog countdown this week! This enriched index adds parents’ names and more to millions of SSDI indexed entries. Click here to read more about it and search the index.

Want to read about another top database for U.S. researchers that was recently released? Click here!

 

Don’t forget about our countdown prize this week! Click here to see all Top 10 blog posts–and share that post on your Facebook page by THIS Friday (November 20, 2015). Use the hashtag #genealogygems, and you’ll be entered in a contest to win my Pain Free Family History Writing Project video course download, kindly donated by our friends at Family Tree University. You’re welcome to add any comments on your “shared” post, like which Genealogy Gems blog post has most inspired you or helped your research. That feedback helps us bring you more posts you’ll love.

Ready, set, SHARE! And thank YOU for helping us celebrate our 1000th blog post here at Genealogy Gems.

 

Celebrating 1000 Genealogy Blog Posts: #4 in the Top 10 Countdown

n Genealogy Coundown #4Lisa Louise Cooke’s free Google Earth for Genealogy online video is so popular, the announcement about it was our #4 genealogy blog post for the year! Guess what? The online video is still there–and it’s still free.

Google Earth is one of Google’s most powerful tools for helping us understanding our ancestor’s world. (And if you read our #6 top post about other Google technologies you can use for genealogy, you know that’s saying something!)

With Google Earth, we can use satellite imagery, terrain maps, 3-D views of city streets and even overlays of old maps to learn about an ancestor’s town, neighborhood and even the very property they lived on. Even better, as Lisa demonstrates in her free video, we can also use Google Earth to share those discoveries with others in multimedia style.

Click here to “fly” (as Google Earth would say) to Lisa’s FREE Google Earth for Genealogy class!

We hope you are enjoying this week’s celebration of our Top 10 blog posts. Don’t forget about our countdown prize this week! Click here to see all Top 10 posts on our genealogy blog–and share that post on your Facebook page by THIS Friday (November 20, 2015). Use the hashtag #genealogygems, and you’ll be entered in a contest to win my Pain Free Family History Writing Project video course download, donated by our friends at Family Tree University. Add any comments you’d like on your “shared” post, like which Genealogy Gems blog post has most inspired you or helped your research. That feedback helps us bring you more posts you’ll love.

media_icon_like_400_wht_9163Ready, set, SHARE! And thank YOU for helping us celebrate our 1000th blog post here at Genealogy Gems.

 

10 Brothers Served in WWI: An Amazing Story

Tyne Cot Cemetery. Photo by Sgt Jez Doak, RAF/MOD, via Wikimedia Commons at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/War_Graves_at_Tyne_Cot_Cemetary%2C_Belgium_MOD_45156481.jpg

The Press (York, UK) recently reported a story about 10 brothers who all enlisted to fight in World War I and the hubbub that followed.

“The family became minor celebrities because of the brothers’ service, and their story was used as a recruitment tool as the war went on,” reports the Press. Fortunately, most of these Irish immigrant boys came home alive. The story reports the recent discovery of one of their graves.

Have you ever found something like this in your family–stories of extraordinary sacrifice made during wartime? Tell us about it on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU