15 January 2011

Family History, Public Records, Privacy and Once-Secret Dossiers

Have you discovered some surprising, disturbing and even amusing things about your family members while exploring public records?  Have you even found some surprising things that have been said about you, or that you feel invade your privacy or portray you inaccurately?

You may think that genealogy is one of the most nosey forms of pastime.  It unveils secrets.  It dismantles carefully built images.  It brings indiscretions to light.  It reveals injustices.  It opens emotional wounds, and perhaps also heals them. 

The Wikipedia article about public records is quite interesting.  Are you compiling dossiers on your ancestors rather than trying to understand their role in your personal development and identity?  Have you even found official - perhaps even "secret" - dossiers on some of your ancestors?

My husband's family history contains several political issues that are difficult to write about in a public way.  My own ancestors, as far as I am aware, were not at all politically active, politically suspect, or politically oppressed (except by their poverty).

I have taken much more of an active interest in politics than my parents, grandparents and siblings.  I sometimes wonder if there are any secret dossiers anywhere about me!

It can come as quite a shock to read a dossier on someone you already know something about, especially as records from the past can reveal the prejudices of the authority figures who wrote the reports about your ancestors.  Police officers and military personnel (like diplomatic staff and journalists) sometimes take more interest in advancing their own careers than in producing an accurate and unbiased account of a situation.

Are your own accounts of the past accurate and unbiased?  Were any of your ancestors' lives shaped by politics in some way?

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I especially appreciate historical insights.