You can choose your friends – but not your Ancestors

A recent purchaser of my novel “Where’s Merrill?” posted a mediocre review, and made the following bizarre observation:

“Write about someone more interesting next time”

Considering that this true story is sub-titled a genealogical thriller, and that it is now listed for sale as a genealogy reference book as well as a fictionalized thriller, the reviewer seems to have completely missed the point about Family History research. You cannot choose your ancestors. They are who they were. They are not made-up characters or a figment of a fantasy writer’s creative but far-fetched mind. It took all my willpower to not commit the author’s Cardinal Sin of responding directly to the negative reviewer with my personal feelings about the ridiculousness of their publicized opinion.

When you research your own family history, you might start out with a little knowledge about your ancestors’ backgrounds based upon memory or passed-down tales. However, when a genealogist is commissioned to research the ancestry of a complete stranger, possibly from a different country, then no-one can predict where the trail is going to lead. This is what makes genealogy so interesting, and such fun at times, and occasionally and tragically, so very sad. One thing is certain – you cannot manufacture your findings to be “more interesting” than they are.

It is also difficult to fathom why my dissatisfied reader finds Merrill to be dull. His researched life story was selected from over 3000 genealogy case histories to demonstrate the surprises that can lurk in anyone’s ancestral closet. Outwardly, as a young man, Merrill appeared to live a dream life; a successful businessman with a beautiful wife and two children. Then cracks start to appear. Hints at unsavoury vices, violent outbursts and dramatic lifestyle changes creep into the tale. Why? What caused this man to spiral downwards until he just vanished from the planet? And why would no-one talk about what happened? That is what makes Merrill so very, very interesting. It is not fiction. I have no control over the places Merrill resided in or the people he associated with. More importantly, I cannot change who Merrill was related to in a tangled Family Tree inhabited by some very dark characters.

Merrill had his good points and his bad points – like us all. No-one should be judged purely on their final chapter.

1934 October (Merrill)

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