If you are like me, you may have been surprised when you find out that your passion for genealogy isn’t shared by other members of the family. There are two topics of conversations I have that get me excited every time, that is, my grandchildren and my family history books. Because anything ancestry gets my juices going, I find my conversation turns quickly to what mysteries I have uncovered or finding out truths that bust some of the family myths.
I can never understand some of the blank looks I get at family gatherings. One thing I have learned over time is that there is a need to be careful what I say to whom and how I say it. Often some firmly held beliefs about ancestors are preferred over the truth, so it’s important to exercise some sensitivity when breaking the news that long-held ideas were just a good yarn.
So what do we need to think about when we put our stories on paper that relatives will one day read? If you don’t want Aunt Agnes ringing you up and telling you to mind your own business, or telling you that you got it all wrong, here are a few tips to help you avoid stepping on toes.
By determining the audience, you are writing for will influence everything you write. It will help you know what stories to include, what to leave out and what you may want to tone down. If you are writing only for your children or immediate family, consider their feelings too. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader, do they want to know intimate details about your relationships? If you are writing your book for a wider audience outside of your family, keep in mind your boss, your foes or an ex may read it. Make sure you haven’t incriminated yourself anywhere.
You have to be discerning. Even if your book is just for private use, keep in mind at some point it may get into the hands of someone outside of your immediate family. Remember anything in writing in the public arena can help or hinder you. So I’d like to put out a warning to be careful what you write. Ask yourself “will what I write in my book affect someone still living?” Will it hurt them to know how you feel or will it hurt to have some hidden secret exposed? Sometimes some things are best left unsaid especially if it has the potential to hurt or upset someone else, or damage your reputation. You don’t want a lawsuit for slander or the very least family problems.
You have probably heard the saying “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” While we smile about it, it can be a different matter when it comes to putting it in print. We often make the assumption that some deeply held belief is fact when it’s only an opinion. It may not even be your opinion, it could be someone else’s that had a lot of influence on you, and you believe everything they say is the truth. Be sure you differentiate between what you know as fact and what isn’t. If there is no proof to back it up, just add a disclaimer in your introduction that some stories have been passed down the generations and leave it open for your reader to decide.
The purpose of your book should never be to hurt or get even with someone. Strong feelings you have towards someone now whether alive or deceased can hurt and be potentially damaging if you include it in your book. If something is likely to be very emotive for you, write down your thoughts and feelings, leave it and come back to it later. Read it as if you are someone learning about themselves and consider what repercussions could result. You could also talk to a trusted family member about how you can get the message across in a way that won’t have unfortunate consequences. It’s just not worth it. You may even get specific people to read a particular chapter that affects them or their ancestors before it goes to print. That way there are no surprises.