I made the comment once in a genealogical forum that there were family stories that I know that I’m taking to my grave.
You would have thought I went on an expletive-laden rant denouncing motherhood, apple pie, and cute puppies. I didn’t. I love my mother, like apple pie, and am reasonably fond of cute puppies.
I meant the statement then and I still stand by it. I do think there are stories that we can take to our grave and still be considered a genealogist.
I heard many statements similar to the following:
You’re hiding the truth.
Everyone deserves to know all the details.
People have the right to know everything.
I’m not suggesting “hiding” a truth about a parentage. I’m not suggesting lying about a birth date. I’m not suggesting omitting a mention of a marriage from the family history. I’m not suggesting one omit known instances of alcoholism, mental illness, various other crimes, “dysfunctionalities” (a word I don’t really care for), etc. so that future family are unaware of those potential problems. There’s something to be said for knowing these things.
I’m not suggesting that one only tell the positive things and paint an unrealistic picture. Leaving out things I have discovered in a public record is pointless and makes it look like I am unable to locate and transcribe material. I’m not suggesting that either. I’ve recorded stories of “early babies,” arrests, disagreements, suicides, “scandalous” behavior, etc. in my family history. Some of these things are a matter of record if one chooses to look. A few are not.
But the stories I’m not certain of? The things that I was told but that I did not witness first hand? Those are things I likely will leave out, particularly if the story seems biased towards one person or group of people. Many times these stories fall into the category of gossip. Some may say I should tell everything and let others evaluate those stories and make their own decisions. I’m leaving the salacious details of a certain relative’s dalliances to fall into the dustbin of history. The fact that I was told they happened (and possibly resulted in a child) is recorded in my notes. Some specific details of the resulting fight aren’t necessary for me to repeat. I was not there to witness them. It is sufficient for me to say that there was a “falling out” between two individuals as a result.
Do I mention that a relative had a favorite four letter term (highly derogative in nature) that she used to refer to another relative? No. I can say that the relative was not very fond of this relative, did “not think much of her,” and they didn’t socialize, but the specific phrases are not necessary. They don’t add to any genealogical knowledge. Sometimes repeating the story can perpetuate a family squabble that needed to die year ago.
Again, I’m not saying don’t mention that the squabble took place. I’m not saying don’t mention what brought it about (if you know what brought it about and are not just repeating speculation). But some of the details of the fight that took place on the front lawn–those might be better left out.
Chances are we all have a few secrets we’d like to take to our grave.