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A New FamilySearch Database Causes Me Genealogical Grief and Questioning
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A New FamilySearch Database Causes Me Genealogical Grief and Questioning — 9 Comments

  1. Chris,

    I’m glad you wrote about this. I feel the same way. Genealogy is really all about ancestors long dead. The rules are completely different for family. Family are people we knew, lived with, loved or tolerated. There is a whole lot of baggage – good and bad – that goes along with the living. There is no way that we can apply the rules of research to family members. When record providers open up recent records we have to stop and ask ourselves if it is really necessary to research family the way we research ancestors. I think the answer is no.


  2. Thank you for writing this. In the excitement of researching a story, it’s remarkably easy to forget that we’re emotional, irrational individuals as well as hunters of facts… until we come up against something like this.

    I’ve been sorting through my late father’s personal papers, and there are several pieces of his writing I’ve had to set aside. Not ready to read certain things, like his poetry and his journal. It’s too intimate; it feels like an invasion of his privacy, which is ridiculous on the surface; and it also feels like it’s too risky for me personally. What if I read something that changes my image of him, or of our relationship?

    On a related note, I recently received an email about a journalist who’s looking for someone to interview about a certain reclusive writer with whom I worked when I was just starting out in publishing. The writer in question died some years ago and left no family, and no one could be harmed by telling his stories – yet those few who knew him are reluctant to be interviewed. Why? I think it’s because the man was intensely private in life, and we feel the need to respect that even when he’s long gone. Especially since there would be limited benefit to the world in giving up the details of his personal life to the general public. The journalist has the distance to write the story – but we who knew him are too close to tell it.

    Perhaps there are just some stories that need to go untold – or, at least, must wait for the proper time to be unveiled? For you, it sounds like that report holds a story that fits into one of those categories. Very odd feeling, to come across such a thing, isn’t it?

  3. Of course the details matter. And of course it is difficult to consider the situation dispassionately. One’s father, regardless of if or how well one knew him, is not abstract. There are several 20th c. events and time periods I have chosen not to examine. I leave that research for someone a generation or two further removed from those involved. Rather like the physician who does not treat her own family.

  4. I believe you made the right decision. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal to download a newspaper article on my father’s death in a car accident in 1972. It was a big deal and it shook me up quite a bit – and a newspaper article does not go into the detail that a coroner’s report does.

  5. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It is also a good reminder to be gentle with families when conducting an interview. While the story might be far enough removed for you, it might be personal to someone else. My grandfather committed suicide a week before my mother’s 11th birthday. My mom is very open when speaking of her father’s death but it is still very difficult for my grandmother to discuss it almost 50 years later.

    I think it is important to document stories of our family members, but the story of your father will not be incomplete if the coroner’s report is not included.

  6. Chris ~ Thank you for sharing this and starting such a great discussion. It’s a reminder that events touch some people more closely than others and as researchers we need to be respectful of that. In this case you are the researcher and the client so to speak and can best judge. I can’t imagine reading that coroners report –

    In my own family I’ve had to be careful around researching my mother’s birth mother. My sister once said she didn’t understand why Mom wasn’t more curious about her own mother. However from thing Mom has said I believe that it’s too hard for her to think about a woman who (at least from my Mom’s perspective) didn’t want her.

  7. Thank you all for the comments. I will probably write an expanded version when I have a minute. We dropped our oldest son off for college this week, which has taken all of our energy for the week 🙂

  8. Chris, I’m glad you shared this, and sorry to learn about the loss of your father. I think you’ve made the right decision. That file isn’t going anywhere–there’s no need to look at it just because it happened to get indexed online. I know there are records regarding my brother’s death from suicide 19 years ago that I may never be ready to look at. I feel that unless seeing a record would bring me greater peace of mind, I should let it rest, at least for now. There’s a time and a place for everything.

    On a brighter note, congrats on launching your son off to college!

  9. Very thought provoking . . . thanks for sharing.

    I do agree that the details do matter even though some of those details are painful or shocking. During my first ‘serious’ look at genealogy while still in my 20s, one of my stated goals was to find a ‘black sheep’ somewhere in my family tree . . . those folks would be the most interesting, after all. Earlier this year, I was taken by surprise by my reaction to the actions of a woman who is many, many generations back, and not even in MY family. It was eye-opening to see how emotional it was to learn sordid deals of my husband’s 3rd Great Grandmother’s life and how protective I felt toward my husband because of it. Who knew such a thing would feel so personal? But I’m still glad I have the information and hope to fill in the gaps to the story eventually . . . hopefully, her actions will be more understandable then.