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    Dealing With the Dark Side of Family History 

    Is there a black sheep in your family? A seldom (never?) talked about scandal? 

    If so, you are probably asking yourself, “How much truth should I tell in writing my memoir or family history?”

    There’s been a lot of discussion in recent genealogy blogs about rattling the skeletons in your family’s genealogical closet. Almost every family’s story has had its traumatic moments and dark secrets. They may feel uncomfortable or difficult to talk about. Do you have to include them in your memoir or family history? No. Should you?

    One way to make decisions is to imagine the people who will read your book. Would you be comfortable revealing the information to them face to face? Is that what you want? If not, just don’t include it.

    Consider these questions before revealing painful truths:

    • Is this truth necessary to tell your larger story?
    • Will the story hurt anyone if you bring it out in the open?
    • Was it common knowledge at the time it happened?
    • Does it deliberately vilify someone? Does your telling the story show malice or spite?
    • Is it fair to all concerned?
    • Are you telling the story only for its sensational value?
    • Are people in the story still alive? Can you talk to them about it?
    • How will it affect any children involved?
    • What will be gained if you include it?
    • What will be lost if you omit it from your story?

    Ernest Hemmingway, in the preface to his memoir, A Moveable Feast, offers us a good guideline. He wrote, “For reasons sufficient to the author, many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book.”


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