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01 February 2012

Some Won't Like What They Hear

Some relatives (close or distant) might not like what you tell them about their relative or ancestor. The husband of one of my aunts killed himself in the 19th century, most likely because he suffered from a debilitating disease for which there was no real treatment. A relative of this man was very communicative with me until I mentioned how the relative died and the fact that my aunt divorced him.

That was the last time I heard from the correspondent.

Some people do not want to hear anything unfavorable. Remember it is our duty to report accurately what we find, not to judge or lay blame. We don't have to necessarily tell every negative story  we discover, but somethings are hard to leave out without really altering the person's life story. The reason why someone spends thirty years in jail and stories that are published in newspaper after newspaper are sometimes hard to "sweep under the rug." If a death certificate mentions a relative committed suicide by disemboweling herself because she was suffering from stomach cancer, I might leave that detail out of my notes and mention that cancer was a contributing cause of her death. I will include an image of her actual death certificate with my records, but will let others discover that if they care to dig that far.

If we are factual, not mean or spiteful, and others are unhappy with our discoveries, that may just be the way it has to be. Our job is to report our ancestor's stories and judge documents for accuracy in order to determine the story as best we can. I'll leave judgments regarding my ancestors' behavior to someone else.


  1. How true -- I discovered a sibling of an ancestor who did significant time in San Quentin for incest. No one in the family would accept that I was right, but it was a wealth of information!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I agree that we should be non-judgmental and speak/ share as reporters of a kind. It's unfortunate when a great source shuts us down, but maybe with time the person will open up again. Best of luck to you!

  3. I too, have found it is better not to tell too much. I found a distant cousin's father was born illegitimate and did have the heart to tell her. When she pressed the issue, I let another cousin who is a priest tell her the information.

  4. My mother didn't speak kindly of her uncle, but wouldn't tell me why. His death certificate gave the cause of death as self-inflicted gunshot wound. The local newspaper went even further stating that demon rum was too much to over come. There are many things that happen in families that are unpleasant. There is no need to broadcast it to the world, but neither should it be kept in silence.

    1. My former spouse was court-martialed. My children have asked me not to "post" this fact nor the reason for this. He was a 4-O sailor for nearly all of a 20+ Navy and Coast Guard Career. So, we will remember the good times, the good career, and leave it up to future generations to investigate further if they choose. The data is in my files... Something to be said about "waiting" 70 years for some information to be brought forward.

  5. Marinell Johnson ReevesFebruary 1, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    You’re posting and comments are all about ancestors, what about NOW? When interviewing relatives for information about their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc, I run into a lot of babies born to unmarried people. Sometimes they are hesitant to tell me about these babies. When I reassure them that I don’t judge, but just want to be accurate, they then become very cooperative.