Will you . . or should you share your photos, research and theories? Recently, I have been in contact with a distant cousin who is a self proclaimed "black sheep". I did not ask why she labeled herself as such. Our correspondence started through Ancestry.com when she saw her ancestor listed on my private family tree. She wanted photos of her g-g-grandfather, and asked if I had one. One? I have multiples from casual to formal. In her introduction, I learned that she is the grandchild of a very generous relative who shared many family photos with me. I sent several to her by email, and pointed her to my blog which had more photos and stories she might be interested in reading. Through a series of emails I learned that she was a young mother and had no family photos. She felt there was no one who would share what they had with her. I started to slowly send more and more - mostly those from her grandmother first, then some from other relatives. I sent newspaper articles about events in the family, and I never expected anything in return. She had only a couple of photos to exchange with me, but it never crossed my mind to hold back. At one point, she commented that maybe I shouldn't say anything about sharing with her to some of the other family members. She was worried that it might be held against me. I have never had anything but brief contact with other family members, and the impression I received was that they were not interested in sharing, but maybe they're just not interested in the family history. That's too bad, because, if they just ask, I will share with them what I have discovered and what has been shared with me . . . information, relationships, stories and photos that could be new to them . . . even if they don't share with me. But I wish they would. I don't believe that family history is a possession, since we all have a part in creating it. The more we share, the more we discover, and the greater chance that
Now, I have to admit that on occasion I have shared slowly at first in the hopes of encouraging a cousin to share with me - a mutual give and take when we first find each other to establish trust. But, if I find a relative with a love of family history, I have to remind myself not to overwhelm them. I might start talking and not stop for 3-4 weeks. Heck, I might forget to breathe between sentences. On the other hand, if I get a request, just as an example, from an individual who is trying to find information for her boyfriend's family, and could I please send everything I have on so and so, I pause. A reply with a request for more specifics results in silence. Needless to say they don't get anything from me. Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit, when I have paid for documents, I've found myself hesitating, then I give myself a good shake and a stern "talking to". I remind myself that the family history is not a possession, nor a piece of property belonging to one individual.
I began my quest for my ancestors with very little. There were few photos, many with unidentified faces staring back at me and little knowledge of family names beyond my grandparents. Now, a rich tapestry is taking shape, not people of fame or wealth, but immigrants, farmers, miners, millers, soldiers, shopkeepers and women who knew how to use needle and thread. It has been, and still is, a grand adventure and my long gone ancestors seem so real to me despite not even knowing many of their names a few years ago. I have been so blessed by the generosity of family members who have shared what they have with me and, most unbelievably, complete strangers who have spent their time to send me copies of newspaper articles, researched in libraries located in towns far away from me, photographed headstones, and located probate records of my ancestors. I even have a road sign pointing to the town named after my great great grandmother, a Kansas pioneer. There are not enough days in my life to pay forward what I have been so fortunate to receive.
I will continue to gather together the stories and physical evidence of my family, but I am just a custodian, holding onto to it so it doesn't blow away.