(With thanks to Chris Paton's blog Edinburgh born WDYTYA man's Nazi grandfather and The Herald, Scotland.)
Reported in the Herald, Martin Davidson, the BBC’s commissioning editor for history, which includes a favourite genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are?, discovered that his German grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, had been one of the first members of the Nazi party, a high-ranking SS officer, and colleague of the architects of the Holocaust.
That's a good pretext for asking genealogists whether we're scared to research our family history deeply in case we unearth something we don't like, whether it's ancestors who did something bad, held ideas that we find repugnant, failed
in business, deserted the family.
Should we be scared ?
Generally, we can't be held responsible for what our ancestors thought or did, but perhaps we are responsible for what our children do.
If genealogy or family history consisted only of creating family tree charts and getting back as many generations as possible, I doubt there would be much of a following; and I think it's finding out more about our ancestors and the times in which they lived that makes family history so interesting.
That's why Borders Family History Society has always been keen on researching social history as well as transcribing monumental inscriptions and publishing.
Past publications have included foreign births, marriages, deaths reported in local newspapers, Days of Our Youth - Memories of Melrose, Dunse Barony Records (transcription of Court Records), Full of Egotism, the Diary of Rev John Hastie, Edrom, Jedburgh Parish Poor Law Records (1852-1874), Jedburgh Parish Poor Law Records (1875-1893), Kelso Poor Law and Ragged School Records, Melrose War Memorial, The Kirk Yetholm Gypsies.
We're working on other publications, Criminal Records, Lunatic Records, Melrose Parish Poor Law Records, Police Records too.
However many of these show our ancestors in a very poor light.
Recently, I helped a friend research a lady on her family tree who had been committed to a lunatic asylum for striking pictures in her house with a walking stick, however, she wonders whether that lady's descendants fear people knowing that their ancestor had mental health problems.
Another record was about a man who had suicidal tendencies, deeply depressed because he was ashamed of deeds done when he was younger. I shied away from mentioning the nature of his deeds and identifying him other than by his forename in my article for the Border Telegraph because it is a family newspaper - I would not want his descendants, some of whom might be school children, bullied, ostracised, traumatised because of what their ancestor did.
However, was that the correct decision ?
Is it worse to have an ancestor that was transported to Australia for stealing a purse, than to have one that was jailed for poaching or assault ?
Lastly, there are also a lot of websites that list people with criminal or lunatic pasts, for example, Black Sheep Ancestors and London Lives 1690-1820. Should such sites be allowed ?
I would be interested in your comments.
If you have any comments, please let me know by clicking the 'comments' link below.