Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What place controversy?

In a recent post, DearMyrtle asked the question "Being Politically Correct: What should we do as historians?" I think this question falls into the category of the inclusion of controversial information into our genealogies. Should we "edit" history to take out all the undesirable and difficult subjects? What about the criminals, the illegitimate children and the poor and psychologically afflicted? Do we hide the fact that our great-grandmother spent most of her life in an insane asylum or do we let it all hang out and talk about all the family secrets?

Personally the questions are easy to answer. I believe the dead have no secrets. Anything that happened in the past is fair game. Notwithstanding this position, we need to be sensitive to the feelings of the living but we do not want to keep fighting the Civil War. As for recording the language of the past, that was the reality then, who are we afraid of offending?

We all have something in our ancestors' lives that we might not consider acceptable behavior in the context of today's sensibilities. My ancestors were polygamists. That is a historic fact. No matter how I feel about polygamy today, I cannot change the facts. My Grandparents would certainly never talk about the subject and even my parents would never mentioned it. But do I have to obscure the fact that my Great-grandfather had two wives, both of whom appear in the U.S. Census records? I would not do so. Am I personally offended by the fact of their polygamy? Not at all. Simply because I do not agree with or accept the practice today is no reason to color or change the way I write about the families. I have no problem with two family group sheets for that one family. In fact, I have no more feelings about the polygamous families than I have about serial monogamy today. One of my relatives had eight wives, one after another. Which was worse? If there is a worse?

Do I feel diminished in any way when I find that a relative was in jail or prison? Not in the least. That was then, this is now. We do not change history to suit our prejudices. To do so is propaganda not history. As one comment to the post by DearMyrtle put it, "There will be someone who will be offended no matter what terminology we use." If you aspire to royal ancestry, you had better put blinders on when you do genealogical research. You are more likely to find scoundrels than kings.

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100%. People really do need to understand that we can NOT change the past. No matter how much we dislike what our ancestors did, they did what they had to do to survive, or what they thought was best at the time.
    I can't change yesterday, I can only change today! There have been a few things that I have found in courthouses that I left there, didn't feel it needed to be "aired" with living descendants but 99.9% of the time, history speaks for itself.
    Nice post!