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?
Letter F Filtering Legacy Tools for Legacy projects