Tuesday, July 2, 2013

WHOSE STORY IS IT TO TELL?

     I have been thinking about a question I often hear from audience members at my talks. Usually the person asking is grappling with the question of whether to include a scandal or crime in their family story collection, but this question pertains to all family historians: whose story is it to tell?
     If a story or fact is about you, do you "own" it? Not in a legal or possessive sense, but in a sort of ethical or righteous sense? For example, in the movie The Stories We Tell, the director, Sarah Polley, asked her father not to publish a book about Polley's mother and the story of Polley's birth. Ms. Polley wanted to present "her" story herself. Was this story Polley's very own, not for anyone else to tell?
      In another example, two family historians recently asked me about the same problem: lateral ancestors who had children born outside of a marriage. Both were asked by cousins, who were direct descendants of the ancestors in question, not to include the information in the genealogy report that would be distributed to the extended family members. Apart from questions of harm and hurt, do those direct descendants "own" that part of the tree?  Again, I am not speaking in a legal or copyright sense.
     But don't we all feel a sense of ownership regarding certain family stories or facets of family history?