Of all the items in my home that have been passed down through the generations, I don’t know of any that would spark a controversy.
Probably the closest would be a handful of German coins from World War II that my father-in-law gave to my son. I don’t recall how they came to be in my father-in-law’s possession for sure, but I seem to recall something involving a dead soldier. My wife thinks we may have also inherited a 78 rpm record by Two Black Crows, a pair of white vaudeville-era comics who performed in blackface with exaggerated black dialects. I don’t think we have the record, though.
These are relatively tame examples, but family artifacts sometimes create an environment that can cloud or distort a family’s history. I was reminded of this by an article on BBC news that raises the question: Is it OK to collect Nazi memorabilia? Are collectors of Nazi war memorabilia fascists?
In a family history context, I would also ask: Does an artifact define its owner?
In my youth, statues of black jockeys were seen on some lawns and Little Black Sambo was a story often told to small children. Is it fair to call collectors of such items today racists? By the same token, is it fair to brand collectors of beer cans alcoholics? Or are collectors of memorabilia from the Confederate States of America secessionists or slaveowner sympathizers?
The answer is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, probably not.
It’s only natural that in our quest to learn as much as possible about our ancestors that we make some assumptions about them based on sparse evidence. As far as making inferences strictly from the items that have survived them, though, some caution should be exercised.
Writing prompt for the day: What do you know about the artifacts that you have received from previous generations? Are you sure about that?
Flickr photo courtesy of Benimoto.