Reluctant Roots: Those who just don’t want to know

BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed show with Laurie Tayor, discusses people and their reasons why they DON’T want to research their family tree (imagine it!)

I was driving home on Wednesday with the radio on, when I heard the familiar Who Do You Think You Are? theme. This of course, prompted me to turn the radio up instantly.

Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor at BBC Radio 4

I was listening to BBC Radio 4‘s Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor, a show that I often listen to on a Wednesday afternoon.

He was talking to Professor Janice McLaughlin about paediatric genetics and her research study published recently as ‘Family Ties in Genes and Stories: The importance of value and recognition in the narratives people tell of family‘.

I was amused at Laurie’s comment about the popularity of the many people who research their family tree ‘even if they do so at the cost of ignoring their living relatives’ (I’m conscious of this situation)!

The segment only lasts 11 minutes, but I thought it was fascinating enough to share here – to hear about those people who DON’T want to discover their family’s past, and their reasons why.

Sometimes those reasons were because they didn’t want to ‘reconnect’ with disreputable family members in the past, as they’d put in a lot of effort to distance and better themselves and their own family.

Here’s a link to the episode (there might be geo-specific restrictions)

Have you ever reached out to a relative who specifically tells you that they don’t want to know about their family’s past?

The digital afterlife and the genealogist

What happens to our digital selves after our physical selves have died?

I was driving home when I heard Aleks Krotoski presenting this week’s Digital Human (BBC Radio 4, UK only), which covered the topic of death and how we continue to live on digitally after our physical death.

Digital Human on iPlayer (UK only)

This got me thinking about myself and how might my digital self and my digital assets exist and be of use to others, as a web-friendly genealogist.

Firstly, stop here for a moment and back up your genealogy research. Copy it and save it somewhere where another can find it. Also, think about how you’re filing your research – is it as simple as it can possibly be? What happens to your life’s work of research when you’re not around to explain it? Is it trapped behind a password? Is it stuffed in a filing system that would need Bletchley Park and Stephen Fry to unravel?

I’ve not thought about what happens to my website or this blog after my lifetime, but both are an extension of my research, which also sits in filing cabinets, folders and in my Reunion10 software on my Mac.

Genealogy website LostCousins has for many years, had a ‘My beneficiary’ option in your user account – where you can enter the email address of someone who can take over your research when you are no longer able to.

LostCousins 'My Beneficiary' field
LostCousins ‘My Beneficiary’ field

Should your websites, blogs and profiles be deleted like many people/families have Facebook profiles of the dead deleted? Is that the right thing to do? Some of the interviewees on Digital Human felt that making a Facebook profile a memorial was a heartwarming way to keep someone’s memory alive. Others may be upset about the continuation of seeing the profile, photos etc of a dead relative.

As a genealogist, I would want my research, my website and my social media accounts to stay online – as sites like Facebook are a daily account of my life, interests, interactions with friends.

What do you think?