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GASP! MY ANCESTOR DID THAT!

The Challenge of Embracing Your Whole Family Tree


Tree with massive roots and branches

This subject has been on my mind for a while. I'm preparing to teach a women’s conference class entitled, “Embracing Your Whole Family Tree”, and there's the whole polygamy thing. I know many people find the subject uncomfortable, especially when it's part of their legacy. Though plural marriage in the past doesn't bother me, I've blushed many times explaining why my grandfather was born in Mexico


In a recent Facebook post, a woman expressed her dismay at discovering her ancestor's involvement in a horrific event. She asked how others dealt with that type of information. I’ve summarized the best answers she received and added my own thoughts on the subject.



  • Considering the large number of ancestors you have (see this article), you'll find on your family tree the entire range of human experiences: saints and sinners; heroes and cowards; shrinking violets and bold egotists.

  • Maybe because we take pride in descending from someone famous or from royalty, we experience shame when we learn an ancestor did something unsavory. We should feel neither pride nor shame about who came before us. Our personal worth comes from how we live our own lives, not our DNA.

  • Don’t judge an ancestor like they live in 2021. We are all the product of the time and place in which we are born. In times past, people believed things we would disagree with, find objectionable, or downright horrifying. So what? Hopefully, we can learn from them and avoid their mistakes.

  • Being someone’s descendant is nothing more than a historical fact.

  • You aren’t perfect. Allow your ancestors the same privilege.

  • There is nothing we can do to change the past. Forgive the person and move on.

  • Work to see things from their point of view. What were their options? What did they know at the time?

  • Honor their good qualities.

  • Consider who is telling the story. All storytellers are biased.

  • Keep the whole of your family tree in the picture. Researchers found children with the most self-confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know their family has had ups and downs and still survived.

  • Besides all of those good reasons to love everyone on your family tree, have you ever considered how boring your family history would be if your ancestors were all perfect?



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