Expect the Unexpected

Posted on Apr 18, 2012

Surprise, surprise, surprise.  One of the first lessons I learned in genealogy was to expect surprises, the unexpected. 


One genealogist shared with me:  Every family has secrets, mine were good ones. ( I found 2 great Aunts,  a half-sister,  4 nephews,  etc.).  Be open to discovering new family members/family secrets. If you don't want to know these things, don’t do genealogy.”


Another shared:  Be prepared to find a skeleton in the family closet. If your family has emigrated there was usually a VERY good reason, apart from an economic reason.


The unexpected is about life, the good, the bad, and the crazy.   I have found many “unexpectedness” in my own research.  For example:


Shortly after my Mom’s death in 1997, I was interviewing one of her childhood friends and at the end of the interview, I was presented with a scrapbook she had kept on her friendship with my mother over the years.  It includes cards, photos, news articles and much more.


When I was researching the life of a step-father, I uncovered the fact that at one time he had been a member of the New Jersey mafia and was forced to leave the state when a contract was placed on his life. One clue led to another and I finally found family connections in New Jersey.


I had been told of a family rift over the “stealing” of land and water rights during the 1920’s.  After investigation, I found the land was lost due to taxes not being paid.  Another family member bought the land for the cost of the taxes.


In a diary of a relative I found entries of abuse and deep sorrow that were never discussed openly or known by anyone other than in the lines of the journal. 


Managing the unexpected.  When you find the unexpected, they may take some getting use to.  The unexpected usually happens when we move beyond the dates and explore court and land records, newspaper clippings, journals, letters, etc.


In today’s world it’s hard to imagine keeping a marriage, birth of a child,  serving a prison sentence, or some other event a secret in the family.  But remember, in the past family members lived far apart and were unaware of day-to-day happenings miles away. And personal lives were more private than in today's wide-open, anything-goes world. "Whatever news was passed on to the rest of the family went through a 'public relations' clean-up to make it sound better.


The jest of the unexpected is simple, sometimes the information will be used to help you in your research, to tell a story, or it may be best kept a secret.  Be respectful of the living and their wishes, especially if the information is sensitive.  In my own case, I can only think of one unexpected, that I chose to leave a secret.  It had no value to the living or the dead, to genealogy or a good story.   Enjoy your research and the unexpected.

Labels: genlessons

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