Putting together a family history is much like cooking up a stew. You take a little bit of this, a snip of that, add a dash of this spice or a pinch of that “secret ingredient” and voila! Every family has its own recipe with the final product having a distinct flavor and texture. One thing all have in common, however, is that they are tasty and are eagerly awaited by family members.
Occasionally, though, someone will add something to the mix that takes the final product in a whole new direction. In a family history project, it is important that you consider whether any such additions will so alter or distort the final product as to make it unrecognizable to the family audience.
Consider this situation in which a client of mine excitedly told me of a recent discovery of journals kept by his mother in the decade before her death. He was unaware of them when we started his family history project and wanted to include material from the journals.
“I can’t wait to see what she wrote, but am afraid to read them myself,” he said, as he handed the unread journals to me.
She was meticulous in her detail. Every visit to the beauty shop, shopping trip, mowing of the lawn and Sunday dinner was duly noted. She proudly documented visits from family members. But she also wrote often of her frustrations with her adult children. A common complaint was they didn’t visit often enough, or do enough to help her. At one point she wrote that no one would miss her if she disappeared.
So far, I’ve included just the “good parts” since it’s clear that’s how my client wants to remember his mother, but I’m still wrestling with the “bad parts.” Should they be included or not?
For more on this subject, check out this earlier post on dealing with truth in family histories.