As an off-the-cuff remark to a question after a presentation I made at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree recently, I said something to the effect that we didn’t need to know every minute detail of our ancestor’s lives.
It was not a slip of the tongue.
There were quite a few looks from the audience indicating that some could not believe what I had said. A genealogist who believes that we don’t need to know absolutely everything about our ancestors? Yes. I am a genealogist who thinks we really don’t need to know every detail of our ancestor’s life or our ancestors’ lives. Singular or plural, it makes no difference.
I’m not talking about information that is in publicly available records. I’m not talking about restricting any access to public information or closing records. Not by a long shot. My comment had nothing to do with public records of any sort nor restricting access to those records or the information they contain.
And for a variety of reasons, I think it’s beneficial to have a knowledge of your family’s health history.
But I think there’s a limit.
The dead need some privacy and there are some details that are better left to the dustbins of history. There are some family squabbles for which we don’t need to have a detailed, blow-by-blow account. It is often sufficient to know that there was “bad blood” between two individuals and what the cause of that “bad blood” was. The minute details are not always necessary. If I witnessed a fight between two brothers at their father’s funeral that resulted in extreme name-calling and their mother returning to the funeral car in tears, I’m not certain anyone is served by a multi-page account of the event. Knowing they argued over their father’s estate from the moment he died is probably sufficient.
And if, for whatever reason, we only have “part” of the story, then we should only report that part which we know from our own first hand knowledge and experience. If I personally saw that relative A and relative B did not get along (because I never witnessed them speaking to each other at family functions, was told to never seat them at the same table, witnessed a few [or a great deal of] verbal spars between them, etc.) but have no idea what caused the problem, then I should not speculate in my records about what the problem was.
Because if I do not know, then I do not know. I should stick to what I know.
Is it blasphemy to say that we don’t need to know every minute detail of our ancestors’ lives? I don’t think so.
I’m reasonably certain that most of us have a detail or two we would like to take to our graves as well.
We are researching these long-deceased individuals, we’re not necessarily their personal confidant.