9    Apr 20102 comments

Is Genealogy Dangerous? Academic Says Yes, Hobbyists Say No

Family history research has become an increasingly popular pastime in recent years, but one expert has warned of the dangers it might unleash.

Dr Anne-Marie Kramer, from Warwick University, UK, cautioned today that would-be genealogists might find out more than than they bargained for. Speaking at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Glasgow, she said: "In investigating their family history, researchers could open up a Pandora’s Box of secrets and skeletons, such as finding there are family issues around paternity, illegitimacy or marriage close to birth of children, criminality, health and mental health and previous unknown humble origins."

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Genealogists rally to their hobby's defence online

She even said that research findings could cause problems among family in the present. In her study, which spanned more than 220 interviews across the UK, Dr Kramer said that genealogical findings had led to conflict among present-day relatives in more than one in eight cases.

"Rifts are not confined to the historic past," she said. "Bitterness and resentment towards siblings or parents can result where information is disclosed." One respondent to the study, a 64-year-old woman, said: "Family history research can stir up a nest of hornets."

What’s been interesting about these pronouncements is how far they’ve been rejected by the wider genealogy community in the UK. Across UK media outlets where this story has been reported, genealogists have been rallying to the defence of their hobby, and comments are overwhelmingly against the views of Dr Kramer.

One respondent from Oldbury admitted that she’d found many skeletons in the closet, but said "I think it’s hilarious and I love every bit of it. If you think your family were perfect then do not do your family history."

Lynn, from Scotland, similarly wrote: "I’ve found big surprises, shocks even, but that just made it more interesting. It gave me a lot more insight into daily life for people in those times, and opened my eyes to things I had never thought about before. I think you do have to be discreet and sensitive towards others, though, and not insist on sharing your latest revelations if they wouldn’t be comfortable with it."

Another poster, from London, scoffed at the notion that finding embarrassing stories could tarnish your image of a perfect family past. "By the same token," she said, "those who have always heard bad things about their family members may find they have some genuine heros in the family closet." And there are scores of other commenters defending genealogy, and standing up to say that it’s worth the risks it entails.

Which side of the fence do you fall on? Is genealogy to be handled with care, or to be embraced with open arms? Leave us a comment in the box below.

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Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Those quoted above seem rather insensitive. Illegitimacy may mean nothing in today's social mores but it was very much a stigma even 50-60 years ago. We had to put our research - or rather the publication of it - on hold until an elderly aunt died. Respect for elderly members of the family is surely more important than making complete information known.
  2. Really enjoyed this article post.Much thanks again. Much obliged.

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