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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Active Opposition

Aunt Jane won't talk about her first husband, in fact, she burned all the photos and records she had of the marriage.

Grandmother June had a certain unfortunate affair and Uncle Ralph's father is not really Grandfather Ron.

Cousin Elsie has all of her family's records but is morbidly afraid to let them out of her possession and will not allow anyone to see them.

Does any of this and similar issues sound familiar? What if you don't just find bland apathy but you find active opposition to your efforts to do research in your family? What if the answer to your inquiries is not just a polite "none of your business" but you get threatened with legal action if you pursue any investigation?

After a life time of experience dealing with conflict between people and entities, my answer would be "So What?" Why would I care what their attitude is towards my research. As for threats of legal action, I always say, anyone with the price of a filing fee can file a lawsuit, but that doesn't mean they are going to win.

The nice thing about genealogy in the present tense is that very, very few records are unique. What I mean by that statement is that there is currently almost no fact or record you have in your possession about you or your immediate family that given time and money, I could not duplicate. Obviously, there are very personal questions that cannot be answered, but those are few and far between. Take the example of the record hoarder. It may be inconvenient, but likely, all of the records can be duplicated from sources other than Cousin Elsie. Grandmother Jane may go to her grave an never reveal Uncle Ralph's true father, but that happens in many lines. We usually call that an "end of line." No records and no possibility of finding any. But is that always the case? Sometimes other more willing relatives can supply missing information on the identity of the missing father or an analysis of the men in the town may result in some possible candidates to be confirmed by DNA? But in some cases, you may just have to accept the fact that not everything will be known.

What is difficult to overcome is an active opposition to your genealogy from a spouse or other near family member. This opposition may take the form of an abusive relationship or merely a belief that what you are trying to do is a total waste of time. In those types of situations, you may have to decide whether your personal interests are more important to you than maintaining the relationship. Mind you, I am not advocating terminating a relationship solely over genealogy, but active opposition to something like genealogy usually is only the tip of the problem.

Before going despondent, think about the real effect of the opposition. Is withholding the information irrational or is there some legitimate reason? Maybe the fear of losing the records can be overcome by agreeing to copy the records in situ, by photographing them rather than hauling them to a copy machine. Maybe negotiation or intervention by another relative might help. I have always learned that there is usually a negotiation point, no matter how virulent the opposition. Like I said above, some oppositional issues require a good healthy dose of money and time, like those dealing with adoptions and other so-called "sealed" records.

In a lot of cases, I have learned that the best policy is to plow around the rock. If it can't be moved and won't yield to reason, ignore the problem and get on with your research. Don't fight, spend you time finding out what you want to know from other sources and acknowledge failure when the solution proves impossible. You are no worse off than if you didn't have the information at all.

1 comment:

  1. It's when people refuse to allow you to scan or obtain copiers of photographs of common ancestors that they have in their possession that I can become quite distressed.

    The non sharing of a valued photo of my great great grandparents that I know to be in the possession of my second cousin, seems, just plain stubborn to me, especially when I know she has no interest in family history; the picture just happened to come down through her mother's line and now see's the photo as her own personal property, stuck away for no other family members to see.

    Records are not an issue!