Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sometimes you can’t win

A few of examples from my files.…

A man told me his older brother’s cause of death.  This older brother actually died before this man was born.  I got a copy of the death certificate and the cause of death was something completely different.  I reported back and was told I was wrong. 

A man told me that his father didn’t have a middle name.  Obtained several documents including the man’s SS-5 that he filled out himself that stated otherwise.  The name he knew his father by was actually his middle name.  He stated it wasn’t true no matter what the documents said. 

A woman has a direct ancestor that committed a murder.  Entire event chronicled in the newspaper with the ancestor confessing to the crime.  Woman states the event never happened and she doesn’t know why the paper would print such a thing.

A woman’s ancestor was a wealthy slave owner.  Let’s just say she didn’t deal with that news very well and insisted there was some mistake.  None of her relatives would have ever done that. 

A man’s great-grandmother had a child out of wedlock.  He insisted that all of the documents and evidence was in error. 

A woman didn’t appreciate it when I presented census records to her that showed the brother of her ancestor listed as an “idiot.”  (I did try and explain the term).

  •  I don’t hide anything.  What I find is what I find.
  • I do try and convey “bad news” as gently as I can along with explanations and background information to put things into context.
  • I present the evidence but I don’t argue about it.  If you don’t want to accept it I can’t help that.
  • If you are not prepared to hear things that are different from what you “know,” or if you don’t believe that skeletons are possible in your family, it is probably better if you don’t dig into your family’s past.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Well said, Michele. I chose to take the opposition approach. I lost a wealth of information when I debunked a story about my cousin's grandmother. The pictures and family roots chats stopped coming. I felt really bad as this was not a found cousin, but a close cousin and her mother was the family connector. When she was alive she remained in touch with even distant cousins across the pond. Now I only share those types of revelations with my mother.

  2. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism.

  3. I once had a client whose ancestor was a slave trader and actually lived with a female slave and fathered children by her. "Just leave all that stuff out" is what she told me. "Let's just keep that part between you and me." It's always made me laugh that people ask for information on their ancestors, but don't want the factual truth.

  4. When you find out things like this about a person it brings the person to life. Two dimensional people are just not interesting. Good or bad, history is history. You can't change it. We should be reporting it accurately and objectively.

  5. One of my favorite quotes is by George Santayana and says: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (The Life of Reason, 1905). If one brushes all the unpleasantness of the past under the rug and chooses to not remember it, there is always the possibility that it could happen again. I, for one, would not want to repeat some of the atrocities that have occurred in the past. I wish more people realized that, while your history is nice to know and does have an impact on who you are, you can choose whether to have that impact be positive or negative. I know, preaching to the choir here ;)

  6. I too have just the opposite reaction to these sorts of discoveries. I think they are interesting, and bring a family or person "to life." How boring our history would be if it was all flowers and sunshine. That isn't how life is now and it certainly wasn't how life was for our ancestors.