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Do they want to know the whole truth?

(51 Posts)
SusieQ Fri 06-May-11 14:58:26

As the keeper of the family history, which I have spent about 20 years of leisure time collating; I would like to pass on the information contained in several crates and boxes in a form which my grandchildren will find interesting. I thought I might start with my autobiography because I have always wondered about my own grandparents lives. Where did they go to school? What did they eat or play? Who were their friends? Inevitably there will be events, even in my history that would surprise them wink. How do you make it interesting but not shocking?

coastwallker Fri 06-May-11 15:18:14

I've written the main people in my tree up as stories and I always preface it with a warning saying that although what they are about to read is true, it may not always be what they want to hear.

And I always warn people who are just starting out on their family history that they must be prepared to find out things they might not like,

Do you think they will really be shocked? I bet they won't smile

Vanessa Fri 06-May-11 17:46:09

I was planning to post a message on this very topic! I produced different accounts for different people. The more public account for my cousins and aunt was censored. We all agreed that my aunt didn't need to be upset by the knowledge that her beloved father might well have been a bigamist. I shared the difficult information on the phone or face to face with my cousins and discussed the implications of publicising various awkward discoveries.
However I wrote a very honest, but hopefully thoughtful account for my daughter, had two copies printed, illustrated with family photographs,and bound. It's only about 70 pages -I thought there was more chance of my descendants reading it if it was really accessible so I wrote it as a series of letters to my daughter.

mollie Sun 08-May-11 08:57:20

This is an interesting one ... I've also spent more than 20 years delving into our family history and while I haven't discovered anything truly shocking (no murderers...yet!) I have learned that we are no different from our ancestors in the way we live and conduct relationships! I've discovered the reality of family myths and put some meat on some bones. But what to do with all this information? That's the big question.

I can write up the facts I've discovered and make them easier to understand. And I can write my own life story but I've realised that the slant of that has changed over the years and depends on my mood at the time of writing. And once I've done all that - who will actually read it? Who is the obvious recipient in my family? Well, no one actually...there is no one who is remotely interested... so it looks like I might have a big bonfire one day and consider the whole experience as just that! My experience...

Copper Mon 09-May-11 07:53:25

This is a really interesting question - I knew Gransnet would be good!

I wonder if you can assume that because people aren't interested now, they may not be interested in the future. I work in an archive and from lots of observation I'd say that people get interested in family history at a time when it is more relevant to them - particularly as the previous generation disappears. I also think that stories hook people in. I know I loved stories from my grandparents, and finding out that there really was a Rhona who died young, or a Billy who played the clarinet in the Marines.

Maybe publishing a book - even if a picture book with interesting captions via Jessops - is a good way to introduce another generation to the people in their past?

Chyan Mon 09-May-11 16:14:38

I've been researching since the mid-1950s! My parents lived abroad so I spent holidays with gran who took me to the extended family. No TV so I spent hours looking at the family photo albums my granddad had compiled from early 1900s, postcard albums with postcards pre-1910. Those photos that were unnamed I made a point of naming. Gran's wedding photo was great, I got some tracing paper and lightly drew the heads then I wrote all the names on the tracing paper which I kept. I didn't inherit the photo until gran went into a home in the late 1960s and the aunts were going to burn everything if I didn't want the photos. I am so glad I kept my tracing paper and inherited the photo, now when the cousins or my sister see it they really don't have a clue who is who.

If you can encourage your grandchildren to get off their Playstations and look at your photos you might encourage them to take an interest in their ancestors who, without them, none of us would exist.

Regarding the "unknown" - yes, this can be a great concern. I was asked to help a friend last year as she knew there was a big mystery in her family that no one would discuss. It was a big shock to find that her mother and two siblings were the result of incest. Sometimes I really wonder whether people need to know about this but it is in the past and it cannot be changed.

mollie Mon 09-May-11 16:46:21

Good point, Copper...that was exactly why I started my family history - another elderly relative had died and there was almost no one left to tell us the stories and those who were didn't want to discuss the past!

I hope that one day my son will want to take over my archive or maybe his daughter will be interested. But if they don't then who knows... I guess by then I won't be in a position to worry!!! :0

superdupergran Mon 09-May-11 17:00:02

Mollie, I suspect your local school would be very interested in inviting you in to talk about how you went about finding your information and any amusing/interesting anecdotes you can tell about your life or your families as a result of your research. You would be a special guest and the experience is very rewarding. Why not ask at your grandchilds school if it is local? There should be a parent worker or learning mentor who would be able to liaise a suitable time with school, it is part of their role to encourage parents and grandparents to engage with school, so they should be more than happy to help.

BikerDave Tue 10-May-11 16:46:06

One of the positive elements in this thread is that there seems to be a universal acceptance that some form of family record should be produced and made available - a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. Whether it's a "warts and all" approach will always remain a moot point.
I have already written my autobiography and had copies printed for close family members. I hope it doesn't seem pretentious to write your own life story; I saw it more as a message to my children, so that they would be aware of the fact that their dad had a life before their arrival and experiences outside their normal sphere of knowledge. It told them things they didn't know, expressed a few opinions and raised the odd eyebrow, but nothing that would create friction or family divisions.
I have also written and printed the first volume of my grandchildrens' family history: family trees (all branches), photos, stories of individuals including a suicide, marriage breakdowns, a "wicked step-mother", dark secrets, illegitimate children, etc. I haven't been ostracised --- yet! That may come with the second volume.

mollie Tue 10-May-11 18:55:10

Sorry SusieQ! I've just re-read your first post and realise we've gone off on a tangent...apologies!

Do they really want to know all the truth? Why not? It can only hurt those involved and presumably most will be long gone. How much to tell of your own life - that's up to you...there are lots of things I won't be telling anyone any time soon but lots of things I'd happily tell if anyone wanted to know!!! I'm thinking specifically about my son wanting to know about me and his dad (short marriage) but he never asks so I never say...

anita Tue 10-May-11 19:18:29

I have spent many enjoyable hours researching the family trees of my family and that of my husband. The information is contained in files but I wonder if they will be of interest to anyone else coming after me. I have told my daughters to set fire to the lot, if they want to but it would be nice to think that someone else might like to read at least part of it without thinking that they should keep all those files just out of a sense of guilt.

harrigran Tue 10-May-11 23:29:31

My husband and I have recently sorted our attic, we decided to put a collection of papers in a suitcase so thet the children can find them later. Invoices from furniture when we married, old payslips with miniscule wages and various interesting newspaper articles from the last 44 years. I also made a parcel of each child's baby clothes.
My daughter gave me a notebook that guides you to write a potted history of your life, noting little things that may not be common knowledge to the rest of the family. My parents left audio tapes with memories recorded but even after 25 years I find it difficult to listen to without getting upset.

mollie Wed 11-May-11 14:07:29

That's a lovely idea, harrigran... and I understand how you feel about your parents recordings. I think I'd find it hard to watch or listen to such a thing too. I have some recordings and a video of my son who died 7 years ago aged 24. I have never listened or watched for much the same reason...

nanapippa Thu 12-May-11 20:11:37

Please, please, please Mollie leave the information for your son to see after you have gone, even if he shows no interest now. I didn't ask my mum about my Dad as I felt it would be difficult for her and I expected to find information after her death. Sadly she had left nothing, and I was very angry and upset; so please let it be there for him should he want it. If he doesn't the next generation may do.

mollie Thu 12-May-11 23:11:23

Good point, nannapippa...

nanafrancis Fri 13-May-11 09:09:00

My father tried to draw up a family tree once but the tree became very complicated with crossing lines as my parents (and their parents) grew up in a small village, so he decided to write it all down instead. While writing about various relations, he remembered other things, so he wrote those down as well.
We ended up with a 'book' which has given us such an interesting insight into our parents lives and ordinary life in those times.
I typed my copy onto the computer and supplied all his grandchildren with their own copy on cd for future generations to enjoy.

Bay Fri 13-May-11 18:26:09

I have been doing family history research for about 20 years and have found out lots of things that I didn't know including some information about a murder. Am just doing a short course on how to store and record all the information for future generations although I do have a printed tree. I am pretty sure someone in the future will value all this information and may be able to research some bits that I haven't yet been able to do.

heleena Fri 13-May-11 20:17:35

I did a GCSE English course a few years ago. Part of the course included writing a fictional story hmm. I chose to write about family history smile. The gist of the story was that I was at the local records office on one of those microfishe readers confused. As I scrolled down through the information on a baptism I was looking for, the scene of the baptims emerged before my eyes grin. As I looked on the lady from the records office tapped me on the shoulder and told me it was time to go shock! I never found out if it would work againsad
I can add smileys now as well

seasider Sat 14-May-11 00:05:19

I found out when I was about 14 that my "dad" was actually my stepdad. I really wanted to ask my mum lots of questions about him but did not want to upset her. I waited and waited for the right moment and when she was ill in hospital I promised myself I would ask her to tell me the full story when she was well, but sadly she died. None of my relatives know anything about my father and I am left not knowing my true identity. I would urge any mother to keep some details and maybe photos if possible. Even if you want no contact you owe it to your child. Any information, however bad, would be better than not knowing.

Rosannie Sat 14-May-11 00:29:19

heleena ,tell me how to add smileys!
I have done a lot of research on mine and husbands ancestors, it get's very complicated and storage of info is difficult. I have written the stories as I think they are but am aware that I put some of my own interpretation of facts in them. I think it's amazing that so much info is availavable on the internet!

heleena Sat 14-May-11 17:02:20

Rosannie, you literally put in what it says - star hello star = bold
square bracket smile square bracket = a smile. No spaces. When you preview your comment they will show. I don't think the instructions are obvious.
I have been tracing my family for a number of years and have been able to connect 2 adopted people with their birth families. I find the whole thing is just so addictive and intriguing. I found it to be grounding and created a feeling of belonging.

AlterEgo Sat 14-May-11 19:05:49

One way or the other I think you should always try and pass on the most interesting of what you've found - or even all of it.
Even if it's not for another couple of generations, or not a direct descendant of yours, someone is bound to be fascinated to read it one day, just as you were to discover it.
If it can be something of a story, and with pictures, so much the better !

BikerDave Sun 15-May-11 11:37:43

SusieQ began this forum subject with a question about whether to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As the postings have progressed it seems that the general trend is towards "tell it as it is" - or at least "write the whole truth and let the later readers decide".
People (i.e. our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren...) are, and will be, stronger than we give them credit for.
When I learnt that my paternal grandfather had committed suicide when my father was two-years old, I was physically shaken. I read the stark information on his death certificate, which I had obtained in 2008 as part of my family research. No one else in my family knew about it - it had been hushed up. After I had come to terms with the fact, I began to look into the circumstances surrounding the event. I have passed on all my findings to my family: they were all comfortable with the knowledge (it occurred in 1922 when he was 35 years old) and accepting of his situation.
The 1920s cloak of secrecy was not a neccessity in the 21st century - indeed, the knowledge has brought a form of bonding between his descendents and a certain satisfaction in knowing how and why he died so young.
So, to turn the popular journalistic saying around a bit: "Publish and be thanked!"

AlterEgo Mon 16-May-11 12:14:58

I was interested, if a little sad, to discover that my great-great grandpa actually died before my great-grandfather was born, leaving my great-great-grandmother with two small boys to bring up on her own. I had heard he was knocked down by a horse and carriage in Lincoln High Street. My great-grandfather went on to study theology as a mature student at Oxford University and to become a vicar, moving to Northumberland where my granny grew up. It made me impressed by the strong women in our family, and I found it quite inspiring.
So, the further ago these tragedies happened, the less shocking and sad they will be, and the more we'll tend to think about what effect they had on the following generations.

twizzle Mon 16-May-11 13:00:44

We started tracing our family history about eighteen months ago. It's so interesting and very addictive. On the Paternal side we've gone back to 1781, and on the Maternal side back to 1841.
The only 'shocking' thing we discovered was when two second cousins married, and both families disowned them !!!