Sunday, June 12, 2011

Do descendants really want the truth?

Most family historians would claim that accuracy is high on their list of priorities. Certainly, if at all serious about our topic, we spend time, energy and money in pursuit of BMD, Census and other records, seeking ancestry. Yet after years of pursuing my own as well as other people's ancestors it has become clear to me that not everyone is addicted to the truth. Far from it.

There are thousands of people who really prefer their version of the family history; who are happy to retain the myths and legends handed down from generation to generation and who aren't at all grateful to anyone who discovers that these stories not only have no basis in fact, but give an entirely false impression of the past. 

When offered the truth as confirmed by concrete proof, these descendants are disbelieving, their usual question being a suspicious 'how do you know all this?'.

Frequently, the new evidence is ignored in favour of the anecdotal model which like an old pair of shoes is well-worn and comfortable to slip into. Truth has hard edges. But if we are to expunge its grim realities from the family narrative our descendants might as well read the phonebook.

And how can carefully-conducted research hope to compete with 'what the psychic told my mother about our family history...' ?

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

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