You might not think that researching ones ancestry would have a down side, but it always does. The down side is that you find out things that you weren’t supposed to know or you reveal things that you weren’t supposed to tell. Actually, those are about the only down sides. With the advent of the Ancestry.com. web site, it has become so easy to research one’s roots. My cousin June, who spent years traveling to gravesites and public libraries to uncover details about our family history, would be amazed to learn that today it only takes hours to uncover much of the same information, thanks to Ancestry.com. I am so proud that she named me as the benefactor to our treasured historical documents and photos.
When I was 17 years old, I worked for the Community Action Program in Warrenton, VA. and was assigned as a summer counselor at a church out in the county. One day as I stood on the steps at the entrance of the church, a boy of about 10 years old walked up to me. He said, “Hi, I’m (he told me his name), I’m your cousin. My mother is…” (he told me his mother’s name). I recognized her name right away and I’d known his family all my life. He went on,”… and my father is (he named a relative of mine)”. One look at him and you could easily tell that he was related to our family; the head, the eyes, the cheeks, yes he was family all right, it was unmistakable. I was a bit taken aback at how matter-of-fact he was though, that young man wanted me to know exactly who he was. He went on to tell me that he’d gotten into trouble quite a bit in the past because he hadn’t had a father growing up. According to him, he didn’t have a father because the person he named had never acknowledged him as a son. The man who sired him had never so much as given him a Christmas gift and had never as stopped by to see him, ever. If you’ve watched any television at all, this scene is not that foreign to you. This family skeleton storyline has played out on the TV and big screen quite a few times over the years.
The problem is that you won’t find that boy’s name anywhere in my family tree. It’s not that the family doesn’t know he exists, it’s that we’re not “supposed” to know, it’s never been publicly declared that he is related to us. Granted, I learned of my cousin’s existence decades before Ancestry.com was ever conceived, but now that it’s here and I use it religiously, I have to play tug-of-war with my conscience over whether to include him in the family tree or not. Is it true that sometimes too much information can be bad for you?
Cousin June left behind a treasure trove of family history, a monument to her work ethic and dedication to family
Then there are the kids I grew up playing with that turned out to be my cousins. We, my siblings and I, were never told that our friends and schoolmates were actually part of the family. Not even the fact their grandmother always asked how my grandmother was doing and called her “Cousin Lula” tipped me off. It just never clicked in my brain that she always referred to her as “cousin”. It turns out that how we came to be related might be a cause for embarrassment for one or more members of the family, so I suppose that is why we were never told. But it really didn’t have any affect on our relationship with that family. We grew up in a very tight-knit community, where you felt kin to everyone even if you weren’t. Still it would have been nice to know at the time.
The moral to the story: family is family, no matter how you became family and it all should be acknowledged and welcomed. Researching our family history should not be cause for anguish or worry that long kept family secrets might get out. As family historians, as true genealogists, we must not be afraid to follow our roots to their true beginnings, no matter where they lead.