Who “owns” your family history?
On the surface, that may appear to be a dumb question since the answer is so obvious. You do, of course. Are you sure? An article in today’s paper raises a few questions.
In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 asserted that the U.S. Government is to assume complete “ownership, possession, and control” of all presidential and vice-presidential records with the National Archivist taking control when the president’s term ends. After a 12-year embargo, most become accessible to the public.
But President Bush issued an executive order in November 2001, nullifying the act and giving former presidents and their assignees the perpetual right to deny release of any presidential papers of their choosing. In the years since, legislators have been working on an amendment to restore the act, a movement that’s currently stalled in the Senate due to objections by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.
Under Bush’s executive order, he alone will decide which presidential papers may be used in crafting the history of his reign. That’s appalling to advocates of the free flow of information generated by organizations funded by public dollars for the common good.
But isn’t that how most family histories are done? Doesn’t the author act as a final gatekeeper, deciding what gets in and what doesn’t? Is there truly a “free flow of information” in the research stage, or are some things ignored or glossed over? Would other family members recognize or accept your version of events in a family history?
These are all valid questions you should be asking as you work on yours. Are you recording the unvarnished truth or are you employing a more selective process? Remember, future generations will look to your work from the same perspective you look at your ancestors. Don’t let them down.