This tip about telling the truth. You know – the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
One of the most valuable things we can do as researchers is to interview, or at least write to, our relatives asking them for assistance in constructing our family tree. But, as I have found out, just in the nick of time, sometimes we can’t bank on what they say. Let’s go through some scenarios.
1. Reluctant Ruby. This is the individual who you really want to help you out – she won’t. She doesn’t answer your letters, trash your e-mails and stall you on phone calls. In other words, she doesn’t want to share.
2. Selective Memory Susan. Now Susan has the answers but is unwilling to tell you the whole story. She may give you great detail about some things but conveniently skip over the “good stuff!” She might forget about the secret elopement, a dastardly divorce or some trauma that occurred in her life. You’re left with getting just part of the story.
3. Boastful Bob. Now Bob might have lived a normal and quiet life. But, he thinks that might be too boring, so he slips in some interesting and totally fictional events or awards or accomplishments. Perhaps he attended that college, but forgot to tell you he flunked out. Or maybe he won a prize at work … for being the clumsiest employee there. You get the idea. He pads his story to make it read better!
4. Lying Larry. A first cousin of Boastful Bob, he flat out invents things. Maybe he’s trying to protect himself much like Boastful Bob; perhaps in his own mind he is or has done all he tells you. But in checking dates and places, it just doesn’t add up.
5. Forgetful Fanny. Bless her heart, she’s a mere 90 years old and is supposed to have a mind as sharp as a tack. But when interviewing Fanny, there are gaps. She forgets a grandchild; doesn’t remember her Mother’s maiden name; can’t remember where great-grandpa was born. She tries, but the memory is just gone with the passing of time.
6. Finally, Guessing Gussie. Not wanting to admit she doesn’t know a detail, she will give you a lot of “about”, “I think”, “if I remember right”, “could have been”, etc. Everything you write down has a ? behind it and if you’re not careful, could really lead you on a rabbit trail where is hidden a trap.
So, how to you handle your sweet family?
1. For those that won’t share at all, there’s not much hope. Don’t pester them time and time again and just hope that sometime before you go to the great family reunion in the sky, they will have a change of heart.
2. On Susan who skips over the juicy or important events, just take what she gives you
and be thankful. Perhaps some things should be overlooked on the pages of time. Hopefully some things you will find in your own searching and even if it has to be kept private, you have it in your notes not to be published.
3. Boastful Bob – what can we say? Before putting into print or on the internet, try to verify what he said. If it’s obviously stretching the facts somewhat, you might just not put it in your records until you can find out. Remember, many people might possibly read this information later and take it as fact and it will be perpetuated for generations.
4. Poor Lying Larry. What to do, what to do? Don’t put his lies on paper for the same reason as Bob above. If he questions why his biography is not included, don’t lie back but it is possible the printer missed something? This is a very touchy situation also as you want him included but you certainly don’t want to put out non-factual information about he or his family.
5. For Forgetful Fanny, take down all the information she gives you and plan on spending some time doing a lot of researching on your own. While you are verifying her story, you will be checking census records, wills, deeds, biographies, and Bible records to fill in the gaps she missed. Or, if you can’t find more, just put in a notation that Fanny told you this on such and such a date and the reader will need to search for additional information ---- but how much you appreciated having the chance to talk to Fanny!
6. On Guessing Gussie, you will have to use the researching techniques described in #5 and more. Where Fanny might have forgotten a few things which hopefully you can sort out – Gussie could send you to the wrong county, state; have the dates all wrong and have the wrong couples married. You will have more sorting out to do with Gussie. Again, if you can’t – note your interview and state that Gussie was very cooperative and helpful but there were some details that will need to be checked out as she was not certain.
I know we’ve all run in one or more of the relatives over the years. It’ll take some leg work, record searching and gray hairs perhaps to get the details straight. But one thing I will tell you –
Be thankful they are still alive to interview. Don’t wait until it’s too late to talk to your grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. When they are gone, gone also is a lifetime of memories and information that cannot be recaptured. Don’t say to yourself “I’ll get around to doing my family tree when I’m older and have more time.” It doesn’t work that way.
© Copyright 8 Sept 2011, Sandra K. Gorin