It was an attentive and thoughtful group and a couple of their questions dealt with the more challenging aspects of saving one’s family history.
One question dealt with the entire premise of saving a family history at all. “Why should we do it?” came the question. “Why should anyone care?” I later found out that my answer that learning about our family’s past helps us better understand who we are today was exactly the way the questioner put it in the forward to his own family history book.
The other question I found insightful: How can we motivate relatives to help out, to make a contribution to our family history efforts? Alas, there is no magic answer here. Truth is, most people at one point or another in their lives do take an active interest in learning about their family’s past but that inspiration comes at a time over which we have no control. It’s also true that most people are perfectly willing to have another person shoulder the load. Finding a helpful relative is more a serendipitous gift than anything else.
Furthermore, a study released last week by Warwick University sociologists in the UK shows that researching family history has a decided downside, with one in seven respondents saying their research created or worsened conflicts and rifts among relatives.
One woman, who discovered both her mother and her grandmother were pregnant when they married, was condemned by a cousin for learning the truth.
An article about the study on the Metro.co.uk. web site says that “Others complained about ‘intrusive’ relatives demanding too much information as part of their own family tree enquiries. … [One] 70-year-old woman complained: ‘My husband is into family history research in a big way. ‘It is his constant topic of conversation and it is driving us up the wall’.”
Writing prompt for the day: Have you encountered any surprising responses from family members to your own research?
Larry Lehmer is a professional personal historian and chief legacy planner at When Words Matter, Ltd., who connects generations through their stories. To learn more, visit his web site, send him an e-mail or follow him on Twitter.