Monday, October 27, 2014

Family Stories May Upset Descendants

Learning about your ancestors can lead to a story that makes you proud, or one that upsets you. But the truth is the truth, and trying to bury painful stories doesn't change the fact that they happened. However, because of the impact these family stories can have upon descendants, it's important to remember the importance of diligent research, providing sources for all of your findings, and sensitivity. You really don't want to share stories that are based on assumptions, rumors, or partial research.

An article in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminded me of how family stories can often be upsetting to living descendants.  "Former residents of Brentwood 'demon' house dispute book's claims" discusses reactions to a new book called The Demon of Brownsville Road. I haven't read this book and don't intend to, but apparently the author has upset the members of three families whose ancestors were associated with a house in Pittsburgh where paranormal activity has been experienced.

Two families dispute that the house is haunted because their parents and grandparents never mentioned it and they themselves never saw anything strange. And a third family objects to the author's assertion that a source of the problems at this house was their physician grandfather who rented space there in the 1920s and 1930s to perform illegal abortions. The newspaper article indicates that the author has no documentation to support these claims against the doctor, just "rumors and old stories ... he was told by Brentwood residents over the years."

While a family fact like this may be true, it's obviously something that living family members would not want to believe. The family claims the grandfather didn't move into the area until the 1940s, and I can't help but wonder if the author checked his timeline of events before including this story in his book.

Research won't change the facts or make painful stories any easier for descendants, but we should be aware of how these types of stories may affect others and should make sure we've been as thorough as possible.

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