Monday, April 26, 2010

Madness Monday: When Relatives Won't Share

I have been researching my family history a very long time, and, for the most part,  have had the full support of my relatives in my search for our ancestors. But I know this is not always the case.

Every once in a while, you might run into a relative who is NOT willing to share information, photos or even genealogical research.

Why? you ask yourself, as you flounder around, trying to find ways to convince  the recalcitrant relative  that you are on a noble quest, and that everyone in the family will benefit.  But despite your efforts, the stone wall does not come down.

The reasons for not sharing are many.  Perhaps the questions you are asking remind your relative of a horrrible, tragic event that they don't want to talk about (this happened to me once, and when I found out what had happened to my relative, I felt awful).  Sometimes the relative wants to feel a sense of control over who gets the family's information--or wants to hide a dreadful "family secret" (usually an illegitimate birth).   And sometimes the relative is just being stubborn, holding a grudge, or being  resentful and is refusing out of sheer cussedness (this I have seen too, but not in my personal experience).

So what is the enthusiastic genealogy researcher to do?

1) When dealing with a non-sharing relative, curb your direct questions.  I am a very direct, inquisitive person, and sometimes that puts people off. I have had to learn to allow people to tell their stories in their own time.  Ask open-ended questions, use gentle prompts and don't expect to get all the information you want in one sitting.

2) Build trust with the non-sharing relative, and show them the work that you are doing on the family history.

3) Try to find out the information from other family members. This is always a good idea anyway, since every person has a different perspective.

4) If no other family member has the information you are seeking, look to other sources, such as birth/death certificates, newspaper articles & obituaries, census records, etc.

5) Wait patiently.  Sometimes the non-sharing relative will reconsider--but sometimes they won't.  One cousin had to wait until her aunt died to look through the boxes of family photos and genealogical research that the aunt had been hoarding for years!

Have a great day!



Sanjay Maharaj said...

I know how frustrating it must be to be challenged with family who do not cooperate. I agree with you that they do not realize it will beneift them and the family to have the information recorded. You have some good tips on how to dela with this situation and it indeed is a real sales job to convince then to cooperate.

Barbara Poole said...

Betty, I thought more people would comment. My two cents worth are as follows. If you can visit this person, I would take my genealogy group sheets to show her and let her see that her line is missing. Share with her some of the episodes of WDYTYA? Bring your laptop and show some of the blogs where people share information. If she has children, she might want to pass down her heritage to them. Or, she can tell you whatever, with the promise you won't put anything in print, until she passes. Also, show her all the things you can get online about her, SSDI (when it happens), birth records, cem. records, google her name and see if anything shows up. Bet she just isn't aware. Good Luck!

Betty said...

Thanks, Sanjay & Barb for your comments. Very good suggestions, Barb! I have not had this problem myself lately, but I know of others who have, and will pass on your ideas for coping with this!

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Betty, thanks for sharing this post. This is an issue that I still find so very frustrating! I have relatives who have crucial information about my brick-wall ancestors, both in written documents and from personal knowledge, but they refuse to talk to me! These are older relatives, who aren't online (as far as I know), and they don't live near me. I will heed your advice, and that given by others, but the who situation just makes me want to scream! LOL. (Thanks for letting me get that out.)


Kathleen Brandt, Professional Genealogist said...

Thanks for this posts. I believe in the power of positive energy (through prayer). And the first thing I usually have to do, is release my prejudices against this person and remember there is probably a reason. With love, I like to build a relationship minus the genealogy. Get to know them. I know, we don't have time, but then again your dead ancestor isn't going anywhere, and you may be able to make a difference to this living relative.
In my younger years, I'd just make up a scandalous story and they would reveal a lot just to shut me up and prevent me from making a fiction out of their family. But that's kind of devious isn't it. (It did work though!)