Saturday’s Dilemma ~ Just Stating The Facts

dilemmaI wrote a blog a few weeks ago concerning how much detail should be included in a personal story for future generations. I know I would love to have more information like this, good or bad, on the personal lives of my ancestors. The consensus of the replies to the blog reinforced my belief that we should include some of the “hard” stories in our genealogy writings. Now I have a new dilemma kind of along the same line.

A few years ago, I asked some of my cousins if they knew any stories about anyone in our family. I specifically asked for those of my Grandparents or ancestors further back in the line. I did state that if the person were deceased I would also like stories of those in our generation. I got a few short stories about my paternal Grandfather, a couple of Aunts, one Great Uncle, and one of my deceased 1st cousins. They are all great stories, but I have reservations about writing the one about my cousin.

Society has changed a lot in the last 50 years. What was accepted or tolerated then, is stop-racism-1taboo today. People are easily offended, and, in most cases, they have every right to be. However, we can’t change history nor whitewash things that happened back in the 60’s that we would find abhorrent today. The story about my cousin would be considered racist, and it is! However, it did happen, the world was in a different place than it is today, and it is a fact that it happened.

My dilemma is do I just write it as a fact, or should I include some historical detail and explanation of the times in which the event happened? Perhaps I could go into a little detail of how my cousin grew up and his family’s outlook on the situation that was happening?


Any input or suggestions would be appreciated.



I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

9 thoughts on “Saturday’s Dilemma ~ Just Stating The Facts

  1. Historical context is always appropriate. There’s no need to add other types of explanation, unless it seems particularly relevant. People did what they did and we can’t assume the reasons behind the actions.

      1. I had a discussion with another blogger recently about my use of the word “slave” rather than the current, less oppressive “enslaved person.” I did change my blog posts because they are written from my 21st century perspective. However, when I am writing to put the reader in the period, I stick with the terminology of the period and add a remark in the introduction that some things might be offensive to modern people, but are in keeping with the reality of the time.

  2. As a chronicler of family history, our job is to report the facts not pass judgement. I would probably include some background information as it relates to the history of the times, but I would state the facts of the situation unvarnished, and not offer any excuses for the ancestor’s behavior. If you’re inclined to do so, you could add your thoughts on what happened, but then you leave yourself open to commentary that you may not want to hear.

  3. As a historian, I too get frustrated with the lack of historical perspective many employ when reading about the past. We can’t change what happened then – people were different and had views that we now consider abominable. However, they were who they were – that’s historical reality and trying to change that doesn’t do the past any favours.

    That said, as others have pointed out, giving context does help – not as an excuse, but because, let’s face it, many aren’t nearly as interested in the past as we are and don’t have the knowledge we do.

    Finding the bad along with the good is a consequence of exploring our forebears and we have to be prepared for that, to not judge them, and to present the facts backed up by thorough research.

    1. Thank you Teresa! I agree whole heartedly. I have been attacked in the past about some blogs I have written because there was “politically incorrect”verbage in them. I like the idea of giving more of the history of the times I write about.

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