Treasure Chest Thursday is a blogging theme suggested by the site Geneabloggers. You’re supposed to discuss a family heirloom type of item that is important to you. I am taking a slightly different approach – an email I received from a Slovakian research mailing list, SLOVAK-ROOTS. The email was in relation to a discussion on the general lack of interest in family history, that many genealogists encounter while doing research. The email was written by Bill Tarkulich, the moderator of SLOVAK-ROOTS. I have quoted it in its entirety:
I’ve reformulated this discussion because the title quite a bit off the original topic Re: [S-R] SURNAMES-Wachtenheim-Szolyva/Svaliava and I’d like to draw attention to the hundreds of readers who may have elected to ignore the thread.
What Helene says rings true, I’ll add one more story. I stayed in my villages of Zboj and Nova Sedlica for two weeks, spending the days and nights meeting and speaking with dozens and dozens of family and “relatives” of one sort or another.
What struck me at first, was that I seemed to know A LOT more about the family than anyone I met.
After about a week, I politely asked one of the elders why they never wrote these things down or knew much about their family history. The answer was quite telling. “Because we are surrounded by our family and our history. There is no need.”
I left behind a small stack of paper including photographs which included family trees, history, and copies of church books. Never since that time did I receive any inquiry or comment on this material.
Only the photographs were of interest. “Yes, I can see we are related – look at that face.”
Coming back to the US, that kind of bothered me, but I assumed they were too busy working to engage in such idle-time frivolity. Since that time, I’ve slightly adjusted my perspective. It seems, that regardless what country we live in, history of most sorts is disregarded. The essential question seems to be, “How can this information help me live my life today?” And, for the most part, it does not.
On both sides of the ocean, I slam into privacy concerns all the time. It seems to fall into two camps. The first is that it’s going to get into sinister hands that will use the lineage information against them. The second is that “He must want something. Why is this guy fishing around about me? Does he want to take the family farm?”
Then comes the inevitable family gathering and some chit chat about family history. It’s polite, it’s cursory, old stories are told, and it ends.
I wish I could be as optimistic as Debbie. I don’t think anything is changing. While access to records has become light speed, human interest in family history remains in the dark ages.
YOU are the family historian, like it or not. There is always one person in a generation of a family group who becomes the familyhistorian. People come to me occasionally for information, but usually only to obtain a “sound byte” or a piece of trivia. Nobody asks, “what was life like?” “why did they come?” “How did they work?”
I take my unofficial role as family historian quite seriously. My work may be flawed, but it’s all my family has. I’ve bundled up all sorts of material and sent it to relatives I believe most likely to hang onto it. My hope and wish is that my little “bundle” will inspire someone someday to pick up the torch and carry it. No need for them to start from scratch – take it to the next level. As each generation departs, we lose so much richness.
I found this email very inspiring, and I often go back and read it when I am feeling daunted and want to re-energize my desire for family knowledge. If you come across this blog post Bill, thanks.