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Old 04-01-2013, 06:41 PM
 
Location: North Carolina
2,657 posts, read 7,006,344 times
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No one in my family has been obstructive about the situation; they recognize my interest in documenting and preserving history that their children might one day appreciate; but I've discovered some aspects of genealogy can cause "issues" in families and wondered how others have handled this. Also, how does one handle the detailing of family squabbles and dysfunction so that pictures don't present a lie to true family connections?

Take, for instance, my maternal grandmother. She might have had an excuse for her personality; circumstances of her life weren't very happy; but she was a bitter, back-biting, mean-spirited person. Any favors she did for other people weren't done out of a spirit of generosity but as an IOU she held against them for the future (though most didn't know that until she came calling, asking to be repaid in some way). None of us in the younger generations liked her, though her kids forever tried to be in her favor. And that behavior caused problems. One day, Grandma decided she wanted a generational picture: Grandma, her daughter (my mother), her granddaughter (my sister) and great-granddaughter (sister's daughter). My sister said, flat out, "hell, no." In the past, Grandma had said and done some very unkind things to her; Sister would rather eat hot coals than be around the old woman and was not going to reward such meanness by allowing her daughter to be around her Great-Grandma. And the picture request wasn't done out of any sense of affection, just as a trophy for Grandma to show her friends and flourish as "happy family portrait" that was in no way true. Well, on a day that my mother was babysitting my niece, she snuck her out to a photographer where a not entirely accurate generational picture was taken: it had all the requisite women except my sister - who was later p!ssed to the heavens that it had been done. Our mother went into a very long timeout for that stunt

Present Day: here it is, years later. My niece is a grown woman, Grandma is dead, our mother is elderly. My sisters and I are middle age and the repository of much of the verbal family history, with all its dysfunctions. My mother, at my request to provide as much family history as she can (which I try to sort into facts, gossip and opinion) gave me a box of pictures. And GUESS which picture is in the pile? That photo was the cause of a lot of strife between my mother and sister, in particular, and censure towards our mother and grandmother by the rest of us. My mother (who, in her old age, is taking on a lot of the characteristics of her mother) deliberately told my sister that I now have that picture. It's likely she was hoping for an argument between Sister and I that didn't happen. We decided to stop that nonsense in our generation. I know that my sister would prefer that picture not exist; I'm very sympathetic toward her feelings; but as a genealogist - that picture does hold family history. For one, it is the only picture where those generations are presented; it is the one picture I have of Grandma where she isn't exhibiting her usual Grinch expression (though I know the smile is likely one of malice at getting her own way over the wishes of her granddaughter and anticipation of the row it would cause between my mother and sister. seriously, this was not a nice woman). I put the thing away, after verifying the date it was taken and full names and ages of all the people (info that tends to be lacking on a lot of photos and documents I've collected), and assured my sister I would not post it to our family tree. But, for all the bad ju-ju that exists around that family photo, I can't dispose of it. As a family historian, I think it should be preserved.

That situation made me think of all family photos, both staged and impromptu. I know from being shown such things by friends, that not all the smiles and close standing in posed portraits is indicative of any affection. There is a lot of gossip and bitter feelings behind preserved family groupings. As those pictures get passed down, many are angrily burned, out of vengeance, or simply trashed as unwanted reminders of bad family feeling and squabbles. That's a loss to family history years; maybe even centuries; down the road.

So, what should be the precedent: being sympathetic to the sensibilities of people who have bad memories - perhaps even stories of abuse - that would cause them to ask that pictures be destroyed, or the preservation of history? And, if the vote is for preservation, what about preserving the true familial history - warts and all - that may have people wondering why those pictures were made?
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Old 04-02-2013, 05:30 PM
 
Location: La-La Land
217 posts, read 302,798 times
Reputation: 268
In general, I favor hiding photos that are painful, if its a case of manipulative abuse or neglect.

I have destroyed some photos that were abuser/victim together, where it were a serious crime of abuse- like pedo step-dads and the "happy kids".

But other general bad-memory photos I keep and just file away with a note, if only for the portraits (sounds like yours fits in this category).
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Old 04-02-2013, 05:50 PM
 
Location: middle tennessee
1,829 posts, read 852,304 times
Reputation: 6487
A good question. I have a series of newspaper clippings about the trial of a much loved family member who shot a man in defense of one of his daughters. The people who might have remembered this incident have all passed without me ever having found the nerve to bring it up. There is quite a lot written about this person but I have never seen this incident mentioned except in the newspaper articles I found.

I remain curious about which daughter he was defending and how the crime affected the family. My mother told me a family story before she died that started my search, but she had the story wrong.

So far, I have left the information in my private papers and intend to make no public mention of my find. The next generations can draw their own conclusions.
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Old 04-02-2013, 06:25 PM
 
Location: Little Rock AR USA
2,457 posts, read 6,092,628 times
Reputation: 1863
Been there done that as the son of the bitter mother. And I agree with mom, above; I hang onto the photos with I.D. and dates on back but no warts. I anticipate (hope) great grands will find them in the future and can see what the people looked like, when. I think (hope) when the affected people are long gone the story/history is no longer important.
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Old 04-02-2013, 06:27 PM
 
Location: Kenmore, WA
7,359 posts, read 6,219,237 times
Reputation: 10577
Behind every mean person is a sad story, probably many sad stories. Leave the dirt, take what is good, and move on.
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Old 04-02-2013, 07:00 PM
 
Location: Chambersburg PA
1,739 posts, read 1,690,828 times
Reputation: 1453
Quote:
Originally Posted by ArkansasSlim View Post
Been there done that as the son of the bitter mother. And I agree with mom, above; I hang onto the photos with I.D. and dates on back but no warts. I anticipate (hope) great grands will find them in the future and can see what the people looked like, when. I think (hope) when the affected people are long gone the story/history is no longer important.
That's how I would feel about it. So far as I know, there isn't much "dirt" I don't know about in my family tree...and in reality, I would want the photos, just to know what people looked like...I don't need to know the nitty gritty on their of their dirty laundry.
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Old 04-02-2013, 10:42 PM
 
Location: too far from the sea
18,014 posts, read 17,167,297 times
Reputation: 30162
I preserve the whole family, warts and all but I'm lucky that the warts are in the distant past. When I first started doing family history one cousin told me I would only be opening a can of worms. Well, there are some really painful and sad episodes but they're part of who we are and why we are here. Finding out has been truly rewarding. There was only one instance when I wondered if I should hide something from my elderly uncle but his family said go ahead, he can take it. He did take the good with the bad and that's how it should be. It's our family no matter what. As I said, the bad was over 100 years ago, it did still hurt to know about it but it didn't affect any present day relationship.
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Old 04-02-2013, 10:47 PM
 
4,787 posts, read 8,764,028 times
Reputation: 12592
Generations down the line no one will care about the family disputes. I'd keep the photos, label the backs carefully as to who each person is and the relationship and be done with it.

If these are photos that are likely to passed around to show to living relatives at a family gathering in the near future, then just put aside those controversial photos for that occasion. Remember you're collecting photos for posterity, not for the people of today.
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Old 04-03-2013, 01:50 AM
 
11,685 posts, read 13,091,702 times
Reputation: 30976
Quote:
Originally Posted by willow wind View Post
Generations down the line no one will care about the family disputes. I'd keep the photos, label the backs carefully as to who each person is and the relationship and be done with it....
I agree with this statement, but probably not the way it was intended.

Three or more generations down the line family disputes shouldn't carry any emotional load...the trials, tribulations, short-comings and virtues of my greatgrandparents and earlier are history. And because they are a history to which I and my family have some connexion, it is more interesting than - say, the trials, tribulations, etc. of Josephine Bonaparte, but their glory or shame was theirs. It is not mine.

The family tree charts, and photos, are interesting, but it is all the stories and events that make these static items come alive.

A few people are worried about what they have characterized as "dirt," and recommend editing it out. To each their own, but for me that is a kind of 1984 approach to genealogy and family history that makes me cringe.

My father was a dreadful father - cold, menacingly harsh in his discipline, a classic bully, and never once told me, "I love you." An extraordinarily difficult parent, at best. But he was a gregarious, well-liked man outside his unhappy marriage - and deservedly so. And he was capable of great acts of kindness - giving a large amount of groceries and some toys to a black family that was accidentally burned out of their home (he was the only white person that helped them that I know of); for years he bought the winter coal supply for a poor R.C. country church and when he went by the place early Sunday a.m., he always went in and lit the furnace so the congregation would have a warm church - no one asked him to do this, he just did it. And these two things, among others, I found out from other people.

I don't say that these opposites balance each other, nor do they cancel each other. To present one side, but not the other would be to create a fiction. He was not a fiction. He was a real human being, complex, a different person in various circumstance. To present nothing would be to make him into a non-person, a cipher. I doubt that anyone is a cipher.

I have a distant ancestor who was arrested for sneaking a priest into his house to baptize a child, but he evidently conformed and raised his children in the very church that was responsible for these laws. Courageous on one hand, turncoat ever after??? Or just change his mind? Later he relocated in a community of religious troublemakers, though he was not part of their church....he had plenty of opportunity and cash to live among the more "normal" member of the region...what's this mean? And before he died, he was arrested for causing a small tumult against some local official over taxes... he was arrested, more trouble. But, yet, desite these incidents where he clearly stuck his neck out, took a chance...or maybe just went over the top, he was a hard-working, very, very successful landowner and miller, a developer of the community and served in court--a real conformer most of the time! From all records a fascinating mixed bag of a man.

We have a murderer and one insane woman and her rather socially disabled sister in my grandparents' generation...but these are just terse labels. The stories that surround these people, and the family members they interacted with are very complex, and contain moments of sadness, of course; but of kindness and even beauty. They are so much more than scandal or shame.

Personally, I have as much trouble accepting "dirt" as dirt and only dirt, as I do accepting the plaster whiteness of some of the family saints.

Last edited by kevxu; 04-03-2013 at 02:45 AM..
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Old 04-03-2013, 07:34 AM
 
Location: Wisconsin
16,490 posts, read 15,940,606 times
Reputation: 38829
Quote:
Originally Posted by kevxu View Post
I agree with this statement, but probably not the way it was intended.

Three or more generations down the line family disputes shouldn't carry any emotional load...the trials, tribulations, short-comings and virtues of my greatgrandparents and earlier are history. And because they are a history to which I and my family have some connexion, it is more interesting than - say, the trials, tribulations, etc. of Josephine Bonaparte, but their glory or shame was theirs. It is not mine.

The family tree charts, and photos, are interesting, but it is all the stories and events that make these static items come alive.

A few people are worried about what they have characterized as "dirt," and recommend editing it out. To each their own, but for me that is a kind of 1984 approach to genealogy and family history that makes me cringe.

My father was a dreadful father - cold, menacingly harsh in his discipline, a classic bully, and never once told me, "I love you." An extraordinarily difficult parent, at best. But he was a gregarious, well-liked man outside his unhappy marriage - and deservedly so. And he was capable of great acts of kindness - giving a large amount of groceries and some toys to a black family that was accidentally burned out of their home (he was the only white person that helped them that I know of); for years he bought the winter coal supply for a poor R.C. country church and when he went by the place early Sunday a.m., he always went in and lit the furnace so the congregation would have a warm church - no one asked him to do this, he just did it. And these two things, among others, I found out from other people.

I don't say that these opposites balance each other, nor do they cancel each other. To present one side, but not the other would be to create a fiction. He was not a fiction. He was a real human being, complex, a different person in various circumstance. To present nothing would be to make him into a non-person, a cipher. I doubt that anyone is a cipher.

I have a distant ancestor who was arrested for sneaking a priest into his house to baptize a child, but he evidently conformed and raised his children in the very church that was responsible for these laws. Courageous on one hand, turncoat ever after??? Or just change his mind? Later he relocated in a community of religious troublemakers, though he was not part of their church....he had plenty of opportunity and cash to live among the more "normal" member of the region...what's this mean? And before he died, he was arrested for causing a small tumult against some local official over taxes... he was arrested, more trouble. But, yet, desite these incidents where he clearly stuck his neck out, took a chance...or maybe just went over the top, he was a hard-working, very, very successful landowner and miller, a developer of the community and served in court--a real conformer most of the time! From all records a fascinating mixed bag of a man.

We have a murderer and one insane woman and her rather socially disabled sister in my grandparents' generation...but these are just terse labels. The stories that surround these people, and the family members they interacted with are very complex, and contain moments of sadness, of course; but of kindness and even beauty. They are so much more than scandal or shame.

Personally, I have as much trouble accepting "dirt" as dirt and only dirt, as I do accepting the plaster whiteness of some of the family saints.
Thank you for sharing the story of your father.
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