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Families tend to canonize ancestors

History should show "warts," too

    One in a series of articles with tips on genealogy and family history that came out of the National Genealogy Society Conference in Salt Lake City in August 1992.
   Family historians have a tendency to canonize their ancestors, according to Monte B. McLaws, a correspondence and family history specialist for the Church’s Genealogy Department.
   In a presentation titled "Warts and All" How to Deal With Sensitive or Controversial Issues in Family History," McLaws said that historians tend to write what they think people want to believe about ancestors.
 A good historian will strive to paint a fair and accurate picture of a subject, he said. And while that may include warts, it doesn’t mean the negative must be accentuated.
   "If your ancestor wasn’t a saint, then you shouldn’t try to make him one in your family history."
   McLaws said that knowledge of an ancestor’s weaknesses and strengths helps one to know the person more completely. In addition, useful lessons may be learned from reading about ancestors’ negative experiences.
   McLaws offered these tips for dealing with sensitive issues in family history:
   1. Establish the truth of controversial events. Facts should never be accepted on hearsay or family tradition.
   2.Deal with sensitive issues sensitively. Use tact and caution. Be careful not to harm living persons.
   3.Tell the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth. Don’t sensationalize.
   4.Use inoffensive words to discuss sensitive issues. For example, change "failures" to "adversities."
   5.Remember that people involved in controversial incidents don’t always have to be identified by name.
   6.Don’t distort the overall view of an ancestor’s character through telling of one insignificant incident.