A is for ancestors…. As family historians, we research our ancestors to know more about the past and, more importantly, something about who we ourselves are.
A is for accurate…. As family historians, we should strive to be accurate…. to collect correct information about the correct ancestors (avoid the similar name problem, eh?) and to interpret that information correctly.
A is for authentic…. Accurate information that is properly interpreted leads to an authentic telling of that ancestor’s story. Sure, we will never know our ancestors the way they knew themselves, or as their neighbors knew them, but we can strive to do justice to their memories by striving for authenticity.
If these thoughts seem rather basic, well, yes, they are.
Many things can get in the way of accuracy and authenticity:
- Cherished family legends that are actually mostly legend.
- Assumptions about the past that are mistaken.
- A preferred version of history, even if not grounded on facts.
- A desire to avoid acknowledging historical facts that are ugly and unseemly in the 21st century. (They were probably were ugly and unseemly at the time of the historical events in question, too.)
- Poor research skills.
- Incomplete or unavailable records.
- Any number of other factors.
Some time ago I was part of a conversation about a researcher’s cherished family documents that weren’t quite what they purported to be. I will never know the full story behind the documents. It was a little sad and troubling. It involved accuracy and authenticity being deliberately thrown under the bus. Was the truth “too dull”? Was the family legend (if there was one) too cherished? How many family history researchers prefer fiction to reality?
If you want legends, read mythologies. If you want to know your ancestors, read and study real records pertinent to them and their time and place. You may be pleasantly surprised that “truth” may be just as interesting as fiction.