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    « Who's the Audience for Your Memoir or Family History? | Main | Storytelling at RootsTech »
    Tuesday
    Feb072012

    Reassure Your Relatives

    What do you do if a family member is concerned about being listed in your family history book? This question comes up frequently, and together with client Marsha Allen, we devised a form letter to be sent to skeptical relations to solve the problem. Thanks, Marsha, for offering your records as examples.

    First, we explain how genealogic records are recorded. Often, the relatives who distrust family histories are the ones who know the least about it. So we want to reassure them that we are following a tried and true format, one that every other researcher uses.

    In many cases, the objection is based on a fear of identity theft. To alleviate that fear, we point out that this is information we have located through public records – we are not disclosing something “secret”. In fact, a cursory internet search will often turn up far more.

    Next, we give an example of the record we wish to include. In many cases, the listing itself is enough to reassure the doubter. They will see for themselves how mundane these facts are, and that their family skeletons are not present here!

    Last, we give them an “opt out”, with specific instructions for the actions they should take to modify the record. This puts the ball in their court, requiring a written response. In the same way that banks make your privacy policy a “passive opt-in”, the author offers to change the book only if a relative objects in writing. Those few people can specify which elements of the listing will be edited.

    Most people, upon receiving this letter, will be satisfied that the author knows what she is doing! Those who had some concern will feel “heard” and be reassured; many will not care enough to take action. If you have a vehement objector, you have listened respectfully, and provided them with information and an appropriate action to take.

    This win-win approach should settle any ruffled feathers among family members. Although you don’t need to send a letter like this to everyone, it is a helpful way to reach out to the few who may criticize, rather than applaud, your forthcoming book.

    Sample Letter

    Dear _______

    Thank you for the interest in the family history book I am writing. It will be called _____ and will be about _____________.

    Genealogy uses documents that are in the public record. Birth, marriage and death records are catalogued by software databases for family lines worldwide. As I have worked on my book, I have adhered to the traditional format and standards used by professional genealogists. For example, here is the listing of my own father: (Insert a sample record from your family here)

    GOLD, Everett Van Orden  b. 6 Sep 1910 Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, UT; s/o Cyrus William GOLD & Annie Alazana PECK;  m. 3 Sep 1938 Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone to Thelma Lucille GRUBER; d. 9 Mar 1996 Scottsdale, Maricopa, AZ.

    Here is a record of a living person, one of my own sons, as an incomplete record sample: (Insert a sample record from your family here)

    ALLEN, Byron   b. 1972 AZ; s/o David ALLEN & Marsha GOLD; m. Janice GALE.

    The above living person would be listed in a complete record as: (Insert a sample record from your family here)

    ALLEN, Byron Frihoff    b. 17 Jan 1972 Mesa, Maricopa, AZ; s/o David K. ALLEN & Marsha Jean GOLD; m. 17 Nov 1994 Chandler, Maricopa, AZ to Janice GALE.

    I understand that you have concerns about identity theft. Although this information is available in public documents elsewhere, if you prefer, I will edit your record to protect your privacy.

    Now that you have been informed of what the complete record would state in the book, if you wish to limit your record, please mail me to identify which facts you do not want to be published.

    Do not include for ______________________(name)

    ______ middle name

    ______ birth - date and month

    ______ birth - city and county

    ______ marriage - date

    ______ marriage - location

    Thank you for helping me to contribute to our family’s history in as complete a way as possible. I am sure our descendants many years from now will appreciate knowing about all of us.

    Respectfully,

    Author

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