Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dealing with genealogical antipathy

First off we need a definition of "antipathy." It is defined as a deep-seated feeling of dislike or aversion. During of my very early experiences in doing genealogy, it didn't take me too long to find out that this was a perfect description of my immediate family's attitude towards the entire subject. The attitude was mostly prevalent in my mother's side of the family. But then, I had little contact with my father's family. Over the years I have seen this attitude expressed again and again as I talk to people about genealogy both by members of my family and from others outside of my family.

I am sure that there are a variety of reasons for the negative attitude towards genealogy. As I did more and more research into my family, I began to understand why some of them may have had such a feeling. Sometimes these feeling escalate into actual antagonism.

It is not uncommon for me to hear stories from other researchers, such as the one I heard today, where one or more family members refuses to talk about a certain ancestor or subject and then refuses to give any information at all about the family. Of course, we could speculate all day about the negative experiences that cause this, but the issue from a researchers standpoint is how to deal with the situation. It is not unusual for me to hear stories about a step-parent's destruction of all of the family records upon the death of the spouse. The stories are usually related to me by the adult children who are lamenting the fact that the documents were destroyed.

Thinking about this, I realized that if I were researching a remote ancestor and did not have any living relatives to talk to, I would be in no worse position than I was with a recalcitrant living relative.

Even if family members and other relatives are indifferent or antagonistic against genealogies or family history, it is possible to convince them to give the information needed to those who are interested. In one case, where I had less that positive experiences, the relatives gave me the pile of boxes of records because they did not want to store them any longer. I have found, however, that there are usually more than sufficient alternatives, i.e. positive sources to compensate for the negative ones in my pedigree.

Obviously, one of the first things we tell people who are just beginning their genealogical research experience is to talk to relatives about their family, especially older relatives. It is a particularly jarring experience to find that some of these relatives not only refuse to talk about the family but take steps to prevent the new researcher from doing research. The important thing to understand is the cooperation of the living relatives is nice but not at all essential. There may be some facts that cannot be determined without the cooperation of your living relatives, but no one can prevent you from doing the research if you are determined to do it. Basic rule is that dead people have no privacy.

In some cases, the situation is that even the relatives cannot supply needed information, notwithstanding their willingness to help. Recently, I have talked to several people who are researching parents, grandparents and other close relatives. In many cases, they are not even sure of their close relatives' names. Often, they have no one to ask about the missing information. Rather than view this as a unique or difficult situation, I would suggest that it's not only quite common but a rather ordinary research issue.

Of course, there are situations involving abandonment, adoption, and other similar situations that require special research skills and may be extremely difficult to resolve. But, the missing relative issue usually requires nothing more than ordinary genealogical research skills in almost all cases involving close relatives. In cases where there is actual antagonism, the researcher may be forced to do the research entirely without the knowledge or contact with any of the living relatives. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we frequently hear of this situation where people suffer persecution and alienation from their immediate families upon becoming members of the Church. Because of a lack of understanding of the beliefs of the members of the Church, relatives will refuse not only to communicate with the member of the Church but will adamantly refuse to supply any genealogical information.

In all of these cases, the solution to the problem lies in careful research and documentation. One obstacle is the lack of readily available information about living people due to the questions of privacy. However, most of the publicly available records are rather easily obtainable. Of course, once the researcher moves back a generation or two, the research situation is no different than that involving any other ancestral investigation. There are any number of introductory genealogical resources available both online and in print. I strongly suggest that those who are contemplating beginning their research take the time to learn some of the basics of research and particularly genealogical research before launching off into an investigation for which they are unprepared. The consequence of lack of education and preparation, is almost always frustration.

It may not be possible to resolve the emotional conflict created by near family members' refusal to acquiesce to genealogical research but that should not prevent the researcher from proceeding.

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