is for Filter in the A to Z of Tools for Legacy
Filter, screen, censor, or frame, no matter what you call it, we all do it, and we humans have always done it. Sexuality has been written out of most personal family histories and stories for a long, long time. All the way back to the epoch of “begats.” Disagreements, strife, and less than stellar personality traits are excised from the official record. Many of these things were not done to tell lies. But cultures at various times create expectations that do not match up with reality.
Lying is Nothing New
You can consciously choose honesty, navigation around certain subjects, or downright righteous rewriting of history. You have the same choices people have always had.
In an undergraduate anthropology course on kinship and social organization, I learned that unless genetic testing is done on an entire community, true paternity will not be known. “Paternity is always problematic,” was how one professor put it. Another simply stated that “women lie.” But it really is not even that simple. Families lie, communities lie, and genealogical history is often the cover story. Memory, too, can be unreliable.
We all will omit parts of a story that are unpleasant, less than flattering, or would hurst someone we love. It doesn’t have to be about paternity. It can be about your mother’s cooking. Stories can be made more humorous.
Ultimately stories about ourselves and our families convey information. Awareness allows you to see if you are saying what you intend to say and nothing more.
What we then have to decide is whether we want to be:
- totally fact-based
- tell a fact-laced story
- present the stories of others, without editing or embellishment
- present only the stories of others that serve a purpose
- present stories as a group that itself conveys a story
- consciously omit stories, characters, or scenes that do not advance your story or purpose
These decisions will be made, the real question is how conscious these decisions will be.
An example from my own family shows how different stories can just be embedded without comment rather than omitted or emphasized.
Genealogy vs. Narrative
My great grandmother died when she was 39. The widower who was a minister, of roughly the same age, had many young children who ranged in age from infants to teenagers, remarried a year later. He married a girl the same age as his oldest son. That marriage produced a daughter, a half sibling, to all the other children from the first marriage.
The family story, when talked about in hushed tones, is that the girl was a girlfriend of the oldest son before his father wooed her away to be his second wife. As such, my grandfather’s step-mother was also his former girl friend. The second marriage ended only upon the death of my great grandfather after several decades of marriage.
My grandfather married my grandmother, when he was a very young man of 19. My grandmother, up until that time, was not in the story, and they had 8 children, and many grandchildren before my grandmother passed away in her mid-fifties.
Then things get really weird. My great grandfather died in the late 1940s. My grandmother died about six year later in the mid-1950s. Within a year of my grandmother’s death, my grandfather remarried. He married a high school sweet heart, his step-mother.
Literally, the s**t hit the fan. The family fractured. No more multi-generational Thanksgiving dinners at the mansion in Chicago. No visits to Grandma’s house. Huge family gathering photographs ceased. Eventually truces were called and polite, on the surface, gatherings happened twice a year.
I was born after the family fractured. It took me until my early teens to figure out what had happened and that nothing biologically incestuous actually happened anywhere as this story played out. Sociologically, that is another matter. My father would not speak of any of this, and it was clear he had problems with his father and genuinely disliked his father’s second wife. Cultural mores were violated. I am sure this novel situation helped shape my path to become an anthropologist.
Genealogical charts cannot give as rich of a tale as an actual story.
What do you suppose might have been filtered from your family stories?
April 2016 A to Z Challenge
Letter F Filtering Legacy Tools for Legacy projects
What an interesting post and you are right we all sometimes change things in our history to make them appear more appealing. Then after a while we actually think it is fact. Really enjoyed your post and good luck with the rest of the challenge.
Stories can and do become history, even and perhaps especially so for embellished ones.
I sometimes think the filters and details in my family story has been changed so many times as tales were shared on down the line that it’s hard to believe much of it.
A very interesting post that makes me consider ways I may be filtering things for those whom I “begat.”
I look at my filters and try not to filter too much… but I continuously discover new ways I have framed things.
My families past will definitely be a book series at some point. I have an uncle that’s actually a cousin. When I was 3 my father went out to see for 11 months (Navy) When he came back my mom was 9 months pregnant with my sister. My dad raised her. It goes on and on. My husband’s family has similar stories. I agree with the statements the whole town would have to be tested and women lie. They do.
Thanks Doreen, I am working on my auto-ethnography / memoir about growing up as the proxy in a Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and am including a generational perspective on how dysfunction develops and is maintained in families although our culture blames individuals. I cannot wait to read your take on your family as real stories shed so much light on our culture and society.
Lois Alter Mark
This is so thought-provoking because, yes, family stories can change drastically just by what’s omitted. I ghost-wrote two books for an older couple so they could pass down their legacy to all their grandchildren – but they made me leave out some of the best stories.
Exactly. And some of those stories truly are the best. Does it really matter what weird uncle Irene did? Is it really that embarrassing? And values change so no one can know what will be viewed askance in the future. I wish more people could understand that the images they want to project are only in their heads.
So much was filtered! And the last survivors are still recreating it. I am having to struggle to figure it all out. They hesitate to tarnish memories but reality is really what we want!
Our generation has seen all the distress and disappointment that comes from deception. We do want reality. We need to see what it really is so we can change it if necessary.
I can only imagine what my relatives have left out of our history!
Let your mind run wild!
My family has always seemed to be one big open book. No hiding the crazy here. Just trotting it out for all to see.
Interesting read! Good luck with rest of the Challenge.
I obviously would get along with your family, Lisha!
genealogy posts usually are more interesting to the poster than to the reader, but this one was fascinating – especially the impact that it had on the family when the final re-marriage happened. Leanne @ cresting the hill
Oh Leanne, you are so right, such posts are usually dry as bread crumbs; I am so glad you found it read-worthy!
Often these family stories take a life of their own. Sometimes one can never ever find out the truth. David and I tried to change that with our children. We have no secrets. It makes it so much easier.
Ellen, I so agree, no secrets! So much easier.