Monday, April 17, 2017

Unwelcome Discoveries

About a year ago, my aunt called me and told me that she'd decided to randomly dial people in the town where our family is from, who have our last name.  In doing so, she ran across a gentleman who is over 90 years old, who is related to us, and who remembers her parents and grandparents.  She asked me to call him and talk to him about our family.  Then health stuff happened.  And so, finally, a year later, a few weeks ago, I did.  He was a delightful guy and very willing to tell me his story and the story of his family, who consequently, at a certain point, was also my family.

He brought to life the stories and personalities of people who, until that point, had been merely names on pages.  I recorded our conversation.  About an hour in, I forgot to push record on the tape after I flipped it over and so I'm missing about an hour of the conversation.  Doh!  But I have these great stories, a tape of a lot of them and lots of written notes.

(The photo is L to R my grandmother, my little sister, me and my grandfather)

Anyways, about halfway through the conversation, he pauses and says "Well, I can tell you this if you'll keep it to yourself."  And I agree, because of course I want to know.  And he tells me.  And it puts to rest one of my brick walls.  I know now.  I breathed a sign of relief after that.  

I'm going to update my records to the correct person and I'm going to keep the story in my notes and maybe one day, if ears are receptive, I'll say it out loud.

I wrote about secrets in genealogy recently... this post and it's follow up, this one.  I've struggled with it because I have a burning desire to know and often, my research has been hindered by the need for people to keep the truth of lives a secret.  I have this secret now and I have to say, it's a bit like a treasured keepsake, on one hand.  A thing of delicacy.  And on the other, from a very clinical research perspective, it's a vital piece of the puzzle of my family.

I understand why you wouldn't give a delicate keepsake to someone who won't treasure it and keep it safe.  And also, I understand the need to have that keepsake to understand the story.

So, this morning, when I saw the title  Unwelcome Discoveries and Light at the End of the Tunnel on DNAexplained, I dove right in, eager to read someone else's thoughts on it.  She proceeds to unfold a story about some of the biggest revelations a person could find in their tree.   She says :
"Our identity, in many ways, is tied to our family – to our parents. It’s tied to knowing that our parents are our parents, that our father is our father, that our siblings are indeed our siblings. It’s rooted in what we believe to be true and in good memories that make us feel warm, wanted and loved."
I think this is true. I think it's also tied to knowing that they were 'good', 'stable', 'normal', 'healthy'  people (all in quotes because I'm not sure there is an objective measure of that), by whatever measure we have.  If they were those things, then I am those things, the logic goes.  When they were not one or all of those things, then it brings into question whether I am also not one of those things and no one wants to NOT be one of those things.

I think that this makes it easier for someone to brush something under the rug.  I started to say that I think that it's easier to do it when the person is deceased - and of course it is, but we do it when the person is alive too.  We, American society, have so many taboos around things like non-conformance, religion, mental illness and sex - but those things are part of the lives that ourselves and the humans around us are leading.  So while it's tough to counter secrets around that in genealogy research, it's even tougher, for me, to imagine that we are simply ignoring, not seeing and hiding large portions of ourselves and the humans around us.  And that, for me, has been at the crux of my discomfort with genealogy secrets.

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