Saturday, 26 May 2018

Baa baa

The UK tabloid press gave lots of coverage to the behaviour of some of the more "interesting" in-laws acquired by a certain retired army officer through his recent marriage. That reflects the fascination for all of us in discovering the outrageous, the slightly scandalous or even the downright despicable actions of the black sheep romping in the far-flung family pastures.

Yet if that black sheep is one of "ours", the excitement of exploring the dim recesses of the documents is tempered by the ever-present worry "Who must I be careful not to tell?". No-one wants to spend an entire family reunion being berated for besmirching the family honour with the revelations, or concocting vile lies, or (possibly) both. Which is why helping someone else to explore their family history offers such wonderful opportunities for the guilty pleasure of "just being open and honest".

We may well think it about a member our own family, but would we ever say aloud:

  • Oh, you assumed when I said his parents were married, that I meant to each other.
  • For that year where you cannot find a Census Record, have you looked into prisons?
  • Well, one cause of long-delayed demobilisation was treatment for a serious STD.
  • No, "had in his possession" does not always mean "was the owner of".
  • With so many marriages for one man, you may need to consider the possibility that some were simultaneous.
  • Perhaps all these "transcriptions errors" concerning the same person suggest that she was not always truthful when dealing with authority figures.

At the same time, we must be scrupulously honest in researching and recording the transgressions of our own ancestors. For there will come a day when you gather your children around you for the bitter-sweet revelation, "In your family, there are an adulterer, an unmarried mother, a deserter, a thief and a lunatic; but ... there all on your mother's side!"


Disclaimer: The precise attribution of characteristics to my wife's ancestors in the above post may have been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect.

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, can relate to all of these. Tend not to write about them in my blog unless pre 20th century ;) Don’t wish to upset the readers even if true so I don’t write about the living and tend to avoid even the ancestors the living might have known well.

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