Friday, January 15, 2010

Family Secrets

My grandmother Posie told my aunt Carolyn that there were some things she was taking with her to the grave. And there goes a treasure full of information or does it?

One of my arguments about full disclosure is that while the interested parties may be sheltered from the truth, uninterested parties are walking around talking about other people's business. So the family is actually being an ostrich with its head in the sand while everybody else sees the butt.

This became my argument because of another family scandal I became privy to. This scandal happened decades and decades ago and the people are only names to me. It was a matter of incest (most secrets seem to be of a sexual nature since criminal acts are usually in the public domain). I was told about it over 10 years ago by a distant cousin. The thing is, she was told by an elderly lady in a nursing home. This elderly lady relished reporting the juicy details to her. So how many times had the lady told this story? How many others knew?

I still don't know if I will tell my relatives about the current piece of information. I mentioned it casually in very general terms to my sister whose interest in genealogy is casual at best. She wonderered what was so important about telling the story.

That struck me. That is the question at the root of every genealogical pursuit. And I heard the answer today on television when George Stephanopoulos was discussing how many Haitians would just disappear into history as if they never existed because of this tragic earthquake. Bodies would be shoveled into empty graves with no markers like the participants in a horrid magic trick. This is what happened to my black ancestors hundreds of years ago. I can't allow this to happen to my people if I can help it. I must mark their existence and record that they mattered to someone once upon a time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's Complicated

Several months ago I tweeted and commented about whether embarassing information should be disclosed in the name of genealogy.There had been a discussion about this during one of my genealogy group's meetings. I was on the side of disclosure. Others disagreed. They believed the information should be tabled until the parties were dead.

Now I have been presented with an actual dilemma. I was told that one of my relatives assaulted someone 50 years ago and fathered a child. This is something that I don't think the family knows about. The relative is dead and now the child is dead. The person that told me is an outside observer. The mother is still alive and there are grandchildren.

Now do I put my money where my mouth was? This relative has children still living and I have no idea how I would tell them about their unknown sibling. There is also a side of me that wants to embrace the grandchildren. They are innocent and they are blood. Things are so much more complicated when it isn't theoretical any more.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year, New Decade

New beginnings mean new starts. So of course, I resolve to do better than before. My resolutions include:

* First of all, posting more.

* Solving at least one mystery of my family's ancestors.

* I intend to visit Featherstone Castle in Northumberland County, England. This castle may have some connection to my Warren/Featherston roots. It will be mostly a trip of curiosity. I do not expect to have some profound epiphany while there.

* I hope to go to Mississippi once again but this time I will venture into the county courts. The trip to the state archive was monumentally disappointing.

* I will make at least one pilgrimage to one of the genealogy libraries, probably Fort Wayne, although I would love to get back to the Tennessee state archives and the national archives in D.C.

I realize resolutions are often broken so I'm trying not to reach too far beyond my grasp.