The idea of creating a family history or genealogical tree, while a formidable task, sometimes occurs to us as quite simple. We enroll all our family members into this meaningful project. They all go through their media, (photos, old reels of film, mementos) and come up with the best pieces. Perhaps someone finds a treasure of photos that few family members have seen before. Everyone is excited and agrees to contribute to the project. Then you wake up from your day-dream and realize you have an uncooperative family member.
I suspect more families have uncooperative family members (UFMs) than not but since I am the cheerleader of family legacies, I would like to believe that this is something people all over the nation are getting excited about.
In my own family, I have an aunt who fiercely guards her side of the family photos. She will not let them out of the house. I recently offered to have someone in New York come to her home and scan them there. “No Stefani,” she said, “thank you but I really don’t want to have any part in this.” As disappointed as I am about this obvious block in our constantly unfolding family project, I also get that the photos, while most of the ones I am interested in were technically taken before she came on the scene, are hers for safekeeping. She is their guardian and free to do as she pleases. She sees no value in my project and is not enrolled. End of story, at least for now.
It reminds me of the movie Nobody’s Business by Alan Berliner. I found out about this movie at the Association of Personal Historian’s annual conference in Nashville TN this past November. In this 1996 film, Berliner, seeking his family history, confronts his UFM, in this case his father, to find out about his grandparents and great-grandparents. At first, his father is completely uninterested. “They’re all dead people, who the hell cares!” grumbles his father. As Berliner delves more and more into his family history, he sees that his father’s disinterest and poor memory are actually ways he’s coped with the pain of the events of his life. Eventually his father comes around to being a bit more open to talking about his own life and how he was affected by his family’s past. It’s quite a poignant film.
I guess that for many, life is painful and looking into the past is something they’d rather avoid. Fortunately, for many others, it is an exciting exploration into who we are and how we got here.