I thought about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when we observed his birthday last Monday.
The words of his I have a dream speech echoed in my mind as I worked to transcribe the audio cassette tape interview of a relative.
Transcription is a tedious process.
Rewind. Listen. Type. Rewind. Listen. Double check what I typed.
It had already been an hour, and I was only part way done with the tape.
The word he spoke assaulted me. It slid off his tongue so casually. I stopped my typing, and let the tape continue to roll. Hoping I did not hear him correctly. But, I had.
The pit in my stomach grew as I listened to him use the racial slur thrice more.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
How do I judge the content of this man’s character when recording and preserving his life history?
There comes a point in any genealogist’s research that you will find something ugly.
It may be a family secret hidden in your DNA.
It may be a fresh family wound not yet healed.
It may be the life decisions of an ancestor that are contrary to your personal moral beliefs.
The day will come, if it hasn’t already, when you are faced with an ethically difficult decision relating to your genealogy research.The day will come, when you are faced with an ethical genealogy question. Click To Tweet
You must carefully weigh and decide how you will preserve and record the truth of what you find.
You must weigh what the potential consequences are if you choose to ignore or hide your findings.
It is the duty of the genealogist to record history fully to preserve the truth for what it is while balancing considerations of ethics. You must weigh how what you share, and how you share it, may impact the lives of other people.
I have wrestled with sharing the transcription more than I thought I would.
Where other shocking discoveries I’ve made have seemed so matter of fact, with a clear line, this issue has weighed on my mind since last week.
Every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
The questions have worn on my conscience.
Should I omit that portion of the interview from my transcription?
Do I transcribe it, but not publish it on FamilySearch or my blog?
Do I add a notation about the lack of formal education this man had, or the mostly white, working class community he lived in, as a disclaimer?
Would that be justifying the racist word?
Does publishing what he said give a voice to racial intolerance I work to combat?
Can what I reveal be used to heal?
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
Our words carry weight.Our words carry weight. Click To Tweet
I transcribed the entire interview, but I don’t want to publish it.
I printed up the seven typed pages it took me several hours to transcribe today, and I am putting them aside with the cassette tape.
I can’t find anything of merit worth sharing in the interview that outweighs my relative’s abhorrent use of that word.
My 27th fear is people thinking I’m not intelligent. I have dedicated most of my life in pursuit of learning and understanding. I have felt most people judge my intelligence on my ability to grasp concepts quickly, and for my breadth of insight on various topics.
However, that is not how I judge intelligence in others.
This past week has helped me realize that more than the number of years a person spends in college, I judge intelligence based on the way that people treat others, especially those who are different or have differing beliefs.
I judge your intelligence based on the content of your character.
Much like the use of that word, it is abhorrent for me to watch people I care about bicker, argue and degrade each other in the name of social justice and politics.
As a well versed historian, I know that the unrest that is h
What’s happening today, is not unique to this time period. I also know what happens when we turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.
I am hopeful for our greater collective enlightenment and intelligence.
We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the Week – My friend Bernice Bennett calls them SSLs. Secrets, Scandals and Lies, and some families have more than others. After listening to the podcast last week, I rekindled my passion for reading historical fiction. What do you like to read?
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