Friday, December 16, 2011
Your Christmas Family Motto
Being a genealogist means that I get to know a lot about people that I don’t know.
Which is great fun if you are a nebby kind of gal like I am. (“Nebby” is a Pittsburghese word – it means “nosey” – possibly a slopification of “neighborly” but who knows?!) Imagine being paid to look deeply into someone else’s life.
Sometimes I turn up great fun things. I have a new client with a grandmother named “Cinderella”. That is a first for me. I hope she was worthy of the name, but since my task is the mother, not the grandmother, I don’t know much more about her than that.
I have another client whose ancestors moved back and forth from the US to Canada based on what they thought of the US government. Like us? Stay here. Dislike us? Move to Quebec. Decide we are okay after all? Move back to the US.
Or the great times infinity grandparents who immigrated to the US. Neither spoke English, and neither spoke the other’s language. But somehow they communicated well enough to get married and have a large and prosperous family.
Of course sometimes the client’s family offers up some unpleasant surprises. I mentioned slave-owning in my previous blog. I have several clients who discovered (or already knew) that their family owned slaves just four generations ago. Some were shocked. Some tried to deny it. Some tried to excuse it. Some chose to ignore it and move on.
On the home page of my website is my credo for doing genealogy and family history. I realized early on that folks weren’t always going to like what I told them. So I thought I should warn them up front that my goal is to uncover the truth. Not the story you want to hear, but the real story.
"Our purpose is to know, understand, and celebrate the events that relate to our families.
While delving into the past may produce some less-than-savory ancestors, or put an end to a
family legend, a sense of humor and a desire for truth will enable us to celebrate our families as
they really were and are."
What I find most interesting when I do my research and uncover the past of total strangers, is not so much the stories I find and present to my clients, but their reaction to the stories. That tells me so much more about them and their family than any story or fact I dig up.
Are they overly proud of people and things in their past?
Do they want to hush up unpleasant truths?
Do they insist on the veracity of their family myths, in spite of contrary facts?
Or do they wonder why and how things happened?
Do they laugh at the humor and mourn the sorrows of the past?
Can they accept that their ancestors, like themselves, were mere mortals, prone to deeds of greatness, generosity, and goodness as well as acts of stupidity, ignorance, cowardice, and fear?
Which brings me to the upcoming holiday season, when we all get together with our families, and sometimes wonder if we were, indeed, switched at birth.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle, the crankiness, the overeating, the disappointment in gifts, and the turmoil that comes from enforced togetherness, remind yourself that these are your ancestors, or your descendants. And make your purpose the same as mine when I research a client’s family:
Know, understand, and celebrate our families.