I've been thinking about labels and about how we choose to identify ourselves. I read a mesmerizing series in the LA Times by Mike Mozingo about racial and family identity. Luckie Daniels prods me to examine my own attitudes about almost everything, but especially about self identity at Our Georgia Roots. My own research has come up against a racial divide with significant evidence of mixed race ancestry provoking disturbing responses from other researchers. And Martin Hollick sparked more thought with his post The Pandora's Box of Genealogy. What do we do with information that troubles or disturbs other members of our family? Do we become keepers of secrets as well as of records?
How we define ourselves changes with each generation. In my family, ethnicity has been a complex issue. My father's family came from an area where borders and rulers changed so frequently during the 20th century that it seems tidal. Political turmoil dictated that family ties were interrupted for decades, languages and the role of the church were forcibly changed. Meanwhile, first and second generation Americans and Canadians defined an ethnicity as Carpatho-Rusyn that had been referred to as Lemko, Ruthenian, Rusnak or Rusin by earlier generations. Discussions of the ethnicity can become heated. Are my cousins today in Slovakia or the Ukraine Carpatho-Rusyn? Many here say yes. Many of them said no. And it seems to me they have the right to say just that. Their lives were transformed by the fall of the Soviet Union and are being redefined by their developing nations and nationalities. If they chose to focus on that and not on their grandparents and great-grandparents lives, so be it. Their own children and grandchildren may feel differently. But surely they have the right to define themselves.
Can adoptees choose which family they belong genealogically? I think so. Genealogy is far more than genetics. Not all adoptees long for information about their families of origin. One adoptee I know has a pat but pointed response to those questioning why he doesn't seek out his biological parents, "Why look for trouble? Healthy families don't give their children away." Harsh, perhaps, but heartfelt. Is he hiding his adoption? Not at all. It's out there for all the world to see. Would I look? Absolutely, but it's not my life.
How do we research people or issues that cause pain to the living? I may be darkly fascinated by the raging alcoholics littering our family trees but not everyone is. For some the stories are reminders of their own lives and not something they want to reflect on or share. And they shouldn't have to. Do I record the stories? Yes, and I share them with anyone who expresses interest. Do I publish them? No.
Recent DNA testing has provided some unexpected results and I am torn as to how to proceed. As a woman, none of the tests are mine. I am dependent on others. One result in a family I am researching has a haplogroup B which is clearly African, something that supports several 19th c. census listings of mulatto. Rather than provoking discussion or interest, the topic has simply disappeared. I haven't forced the issue, and maybe everyone else is doing the same, but I wonder how far should one push others to examine topics they may not want to examine? Another test for surname group showed no matches to that surname, but several matches to another surname. The cousin tested has stopped responding to my emails. I want to explain that it's great information, that it could indicate a name change, an adoption just as easily as an illegitimate or adulterous birth. Whatever happened may have been generations ago. But it could have happened very recently. He's not interested in pursuing any further testing. And, reluctantly, I think I have to move away from this project.
In all cases I am recording the information. But at this point I am not sharing it unless it is clear the person is ready to hear what I have to share. It's a balancing act, weighing respect for the living with my research into the past - and I don't always feel well-balanced.