euphoria (he calls it research rapture!) we get from discovering new information and dancing with glee (well, I do; don’t know about Steve) when certain pieces of information come together to solve a puzzle. But not everyone you are related to or that you love shares this same enthusiasm, even if you have a web site that’s taking off and garnering attention you never anticipated – thus this blog. I had intended to do something a bit more on hard news, but decided to play it light this time
around. This is something I wrote in preparation for a book I plan to write if this project comes to its fruition. Some of you may have met
these people in your own efforts in researching family history. If so, I empathize, sympathize and I feel your pain, pal. And your joy. :o)
When you're researching family history, it's not always smiles and sharing. You start out with starry eyes and good
intentions, thinking that everyone in the family is just as interested as you are in why certain members of the family have a talent for music or art, why others may be quiet and introspective and others able to keep a group in thrall
with a funny story while others prefer to sit back with a good book and enjoy quiet time. Perhaps you have certain traditions you keep on holidays or certain recipes that seem to pass from generation to generation. Where and who in your family history do these traits and traditions come from? Someone knows the answers to these queries, and all you need to do is ask – right? Oh, boy.
Through the years, decades even that I've been collecting family information, I have found there are basically
three categories of relatives: The Storyteller/Listener, the Listener/Nodder and the Stonewaller. We will discuss
each category separately, as they all deserve their moment in the sun for different reasons.
I'll start with my favorite first, and of course that's the Storyteller/Listener. The S/L's have lore to spare, stories out the wazoo and love talking about things that happened to them. Their lives are an open book, hearts worn on their sleeves; they know all about Aunt Stella's days in the WAC during WWII or what happened with Grandfather Clarence and the neighbor lady he got caught cheating with, not to mention the moonshine business on the side. They tell you about themselves and important things that happened to them openly. A subset of the Storyteller/Listener is the Sharer, a person who has actual documents to share, like letters, photos, school certificates, family bibles and such. Some Sharers are fellow researchers like yourself, and they freely share any information they have collected in order to give you a good foundation on which to build your own research, which in turn you will share back with them. I love these people. We appreciate each other and value the effort that goes both ways. Just so you know, these people are rare as liquor sales in the south on Sunday. If you find one, or two – use them. But give back as well to maintain good karma.
Category two covers the Listener/Nodder. The L/N variety of relative is the type that really tests your patience and makes you wonder why in the hell you're doing this anyway if nobody other than you gives a shit. Say you have all
these neat stories you've gathered from years of pulling together anecdotes, stuff from the internet (Google is your friend), and connections you've made from various web sites and even Facebook. You are simply bursting at the seams with the desire to share all this hard won knowledge and pounce on Aunt Betsy at the next family gathering. The entire time you are spilling your guts and imparting all this new found wisdom, she's sitting there smiling and nodding.
You get the feeling first that, “Oh, she's really listening!”, so you carry on. After a while the nodding and smiling continues, but she's not asking any questions or making any comments about all you've told her. So you take a break to offer her the opportunity to do so. Does she have a question or comment? No, she does not. What you typically get is the “That's nice dear” or a similar response, and then she will turn away and say something like, “Can someone get me a Coke?”, and the conversation is over. All this time you think you've been talking with someone who should care about the history of their family, and it's gone in one ear and out the other, or gone in the ear and just been shelved to gather dust like an old pair of shoes. Balloon busted and your tender ego deflated, do you then move on to the next relative to impart your knowledge? Sometimes you do find someone else who is willing to listen and learn, other times it's just better to keep your mouth shut and ponder what you've learned from this experience. You need time to assess whether you were a total pain in the ass in your approach and extreme level of enthusiasm, or was Aunt Betsy just completely and totally lacking interest. Points to ponder.
Last and truly least, is the Stonewaller. Stonewallers have nothing they want to share, nothing they want to learn from you and can be generally pissed off because you even dare to ask them: a). if they know any stories they would care to share, or b). if they want to know what you have learned. There are a couple of things that come to mind with this type of person. Could be that they have had an unhappy or traumatic experience and the thought of talking through memories is painful. In a case like this, if they don't want to talk then you shouldn't try to make them. Their silence and reticence is understandable, and should be respected. I have run into this a bit in my own family and have come to accept there are certain things I will never know. There's also the instance where someone feels they have some implied ownership of certain memories and feel you have no right to them in any way, shape or form. Some may be “namesakes” of the person of interest and resentful of the fact that you have put forth efforts to learn about this person and they have not. Never mind that someone else (me for instance) has spent 40+ years in search of information about the dead war hero and has amassed volumes of stuff, met loads of people with info to share and gathered photos, letters and other personal items from his life. No, that doesn't give me any leeway at all. So my thought
here is there's some jealousy involved, and perhaps guilt because they never cared enough to do this on their own.
Whatever the reason, if there is anything to be learned from this type of relative is this: dig deeper, go around them, and learn how to use every resource you can to find what you want. You may learn some uncomfortable truths about your family, things people have tried to hide but decades later can give you a better understanding of your personal history. A true historian doesn’t just sift through the data and select the desirable information to tell a bright and shiny family story. A historian utilizes the good and the not so good, and recognizes that both add to the richness of the tale – the blood, sweat and tears and the joy that make your story complete.
So for Billy and the rest of the men of Strong, I keep this going. There is a very great chance of this story being told by a true historian very soon. Once I have confirmation of this, there will be much joy in Mudville, and here as well. I can’t wait to get back to you with more!