08 January 2013

The importance of online family trees often lies in their uncertainty

Group Gathering -- includes my mum, her best friend, her brothers, her mother and a grandmother and a whole bunch of people not yet identified, c. 1950, Lancashire, England

There are many reasons why we construct family trees.  Sometimes it’s to document a well-known past and sometimes it’s to discover a history previously unknown to us.

My own personal journey was more about what I did NOT know about my family than what I did know.  When families move away from their birth places, when many die young, when survivors are mobile in their quest for finding work, learning the facts is hard enough, never mind figuring out what colors belong between the lines.

I think that is why an article with the above title by Emily Kasriel and published at guardian.co.uk caught my eye since her subtitle is “In creating a digital family tree from a fragmented past, I learned that accuracy often yields to the necessity of a personal narrative.”

Too often we cannot acquire documentation to provide us with the facts of our ancestor’s lives.  Wars, pests, nature and people have all contributed to the destruction of documents which may have told us more.  Yet, they did live their lives and we do sometimes have family stories that might give us the color though not the lines.  And, capturing and sharing those personal narratives does have value.

My personal history has some lines and a lot of color. And, in a way, not having so many lines encouraged me to look for more color.  Who wants to receive a family binder of only a few pages, when I could create much more by including information on the towns where they lived, the ships they traveled on, the churches they attended, the places where they were employed and much more.  None of which helped add more ancestors to my tree, and yet, left me satisfied that I knew more about their lives than I would have otherwise.

Please do read Emily’s article and check out all the comments posted by others.

What was your reaction to what she shared?

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  1. I have remembrances of grandparents that my younger siblings and cousins do not have. If I include those in a family history it gives the others a precious gift. By including history of the places they lived it can also give clues into the family dynamics at certain times that can help understand the family. Why people moved, divorced, took in other family members, etc.

  2. Thanks for sharing! We all hold different pieces to the puzzle of our families. How many times do you get together with your siblings and wonder if you actually lived in the same house for as long as you did since you all seem to remember such different bits about everything and everyone! Then, expand this to your cousins and what they heard growing up about grandparents and great grandparents and we "know" more of things we will possibly/probably never prove ... as you so aptly said, "precious!"