Last night a family member asked if I’d unearthed any more embarrassing incidents in our family history. The individual appeared to be particularly concerned about the stigma from having a one-handed gypsy ancestor who gave birth to an illegitimate son whilst on the road in the company of a gaggle of 18th century chimney sweep apprentices. They straw-clutchingly tried to point out that giving birth on the roadside was perfectly normal for the period. There was no ambulance service, or so their argument went.
And so lies one of the dichotomies of family history. My relative seemingly didn’t want any hint of scandal in our background. They wanted an ordinary, uneventful lineage. They took anything otherwise as casting some kind of lingering reputational stain passed down through the generations. A case of these things are best left in the past. Dirty linen, no matter how old, should never see the light of day. The dead should be portrayed as paragons of virtue. Their human weaknesses buried alongside them in their graves. In short the skeletons of ancestors should be left in their graves.
They want a family tree populated with ancestors who lived ordinary, unremarkable, hard-working lives, with no speck of scandal.
Yet for others these more unusual events add colour to the every-dayness of “born, baptised, married, died, buried” records. They stand in the camp of ordinary lives are boring. Not worthy of re-discovery. Unremarkable genealogy is uninteresting. I’m not sure how true this is but, for example, the ordinariness of Michael Parkinson’s ancestry is cited as the reason why his story was ditched by “Who Do You Think You Are?”
For me family history is about every-day lives. Some are ordinary, some are less so. But that’s part of the rich tapestry of life. It’s a mixture of all sorts. And you can’t gloss over the less palatable tales. No more so than you should discount the mundane. All facets are equally valid.