Researching family tree is risky for relations

Fri Apr 9, 2010 11:09am EDT
 
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By Valle Aviles Pinedo

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Researching the family tree may seem an innocuous exercise in understanding your history, until you discover Uncle Albert is really your father.

A new study reveals that people researching their family history often open a Pandora's Box of secrets that can unsettle and offend relatives, sometimes permanently damaging relations.

University of Warwick sociology professor Anne-Marie Kramer told the British Sociological Association's annual conference in Glasgow Friday that of 224 people who gave her details of their family history research, around 30 mentioned conflict.

Kramer said the main causes of conflict were uncovering unwelcome information, wanting information from relatives who didn't wish to give it, giving relatives inaccurate information, spending more time researching than with loved ones, and coming into contact with hostile relatives.

She said the public in Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States were enjoying unparalleled access to historical records and were immersed in a seemingly unprecedented boom in the family heritage industry.

"But in investigating their family history, researchers could open up a Pandora's Box of secrets and skeletons, such as finding there are family issues around paternity, illegitimacy or marriage close to birth of children, criminality, health and mental health and previously unknown humble origins," Kramer said in a statement on Warwick University's website.

Kramer provided some details of study respondents who said they had uncovered unsavory ancestors, been offended by nosy relatives seeking personal information or revealed aspects of their parents' marriage that had been kept secret for years.

"I have a friend, who, when his mother died, found information to the effect that his sister was adopted. He has not given the information to his sister and is very uncomfortable about holding the knowledge," one 72-year-old woman wrote.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)