Saturday, April 14, 2007

Skeletons Among My Roots

I love to write about the good, hard working ancestors in my tree. Or the ancestor that died a tragic death that was covered for weeks in the newspaper. I record every scrap of information I can find about the quiet ancestors that left behind so very little of their story for me to find.

What I don't know how to handle are the skeletons that I come across. It's quite unpleasant to find unpleasant ancestors. How much do I really want to know and how much of what I find do I want to pass on. Does it / should it matter how close to me an ancestor was? I certainly don't mean to imply that my tree is filled with unpleasantness but it does show up from time to time.

I was very excited the first time I found a reference to an ancestor in a history book. My excitement deflated when I learned that what he was most remembered for was bringing an underbed of weeds into his new community. Not too terrible but not what I was hoping for either. His son was referenced in the same text for having been cashiered from the army.

I was absolutely shocked to learn that another ancestor was a slave owner. How could this be when I came from a family that fought against slavery? Prior to this discovery I never even realized that there had been slavery in New York. I guess this isn't something to be left out of a history so long ago past. Even after 200 years this is a sensitive issue and needs to be written so as not to offend but a history of the times needs to be addressed also.

These ancestors are many generations back in my tree and I guess that does make them easier to write about. Where I really run into trouble is in dealing with the much closer kin that have screwed up. Should I really record all of the bad things I have found? Will it benefit future generations to know that so and so was arrested for such and such? Do my grandkids really need to know that nobody seemed to have anything good to say about my grandfather and great-grandfather? What would it hurt to simply remember them as war heroes and leave the unpleasantness buried?

My kids have fond memories of my father. Should I really record all that I know and feel about him and maybe warp those memories? Would it actually benefit them in some way? If I don't record these things they will stay buried with him.

So how do you handle the skeletons in your tree?