Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Paper Family

Family history has been a long-time hobby of mine, and in the process of locating relatives, living and dead, I've run into people who have a strong need to create a paper family.

First there was the gay young man, who, when he came out, was disowned by his nuclear family. It was important to him have a paper family, and he discovered that there was a long history of multiple marriages and alcoholism in his ancestry, indicators of possible gender identity problems.

Then there was the woman from a severely disfunctional family. Her grandfather was convicted of child abuse, and the children had been scattered into foster homes and institutions. She needed to reunite her aunts and uncles, (at least on paper, for most of them were dead,) and to link with other, more normal branches of the family. Though not highly educated, she became an expert at locating hard-to-find records. The research also helped her to understand that undiagnosed learning disabilities may have contributed to the problems of the earlier generations.

A friend related that since her bi-polar niece has become interested in researching the family history, she seems more stable. It's not clear which is cause and which is effect, but I wondered if relating to a paper family was easier for her than confronting flesh and blood relatives.

I would say that the primary pleasure of genealogy for me is the intellectual challenge of the research. But, come to think of it, once I discover additional living relatives, I don't really go out of my way to meet them in person. So maybe I too, am most satisfied with a paper family.


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