And then occasionally, there are puzzles I hesitate to try to solve, secrets that—perhaps—should stay hidden. If they hold any beauty or hope, any word of instruction or truth, then it can’t be said to outweigh their pain or loss or common vulgarity. Some family stories are whispered if they are ever told at all, or are told once and then mercifully forgotten. Or we try to forget, anyway.
There is a bogey in my family tree, and no one utters a good word about him. Not to suggest that I find injustice in that. If he had a single redeeming quality, it never made the news, was inadmissible as evidence, and failed to impress the record of memory.
He is a “brick wall” as my fellow genies would say. I’m no closer to his parentage than I was five years ago, although I have built quite a dossier on him. You’ve heard the phrase, “You can always tell he’s lying if his lips are moving,” but this ancestor lied in print. His lies continue after his lips have stilled.
Am I being unfair? I won’t name him here; I don’t want to make trouble for his living namesake, nor toss about accusations, provable or not. Because you know, I do have some proof. A brief newspaper account and a maddeningly unhelpful court record. He was found innocent of wrongdoing, for what it’s worth.
If there is a point of interest, it is sordid and voyeuristic. If there is a cautionary tale, it is to marry wisely. If there is a picture of redemption, I haven’t found it.
And if he cast a shadow over this family, then does “shedding light” on facts combat or perpetuate that?
Spiritual matters so often become evident to me in concrete things. The compelling mystery here is not the fact or legend of any particular bogey, but the moral questions I confront as a result. If I have taken up the unofficial mantle of family historian, then does it fall to me to decide which stories are worth repeating? I’m inclined to think that amounts to assuming too much. Then again, what is my responsibility to the privacy of those injured in the past (once they are gone) or the knowledge of future generations (who may not ever be)? Who is hurt and who is helped by the knowledge?
The newest crop of adults in my family are too young to remember this bogey—we have only the stories. In two generations, his memory could fade out completely. Should I throw away my evidence and let it?
Question for You
Have you faced a moral dilemma in sharing genealogical discoveries? What did you decide?