Skeletons in the closet? Quick, shut the door! What is your reaction when you learn about the skeleton your family has been hiding all these years? Are you horrified? Do you pretend it isn’t real? Or do you face it head-on, like an historian?
Skeletons are scary things. We are frightened of them and many times it is with good reason. When we discover something unsavory in our history it is difficult for us to acknowledge the depravity of humankind and that it exists in our own family tree. Having said that we need to recognize that there are skeletons and then there are SKELETONS. Believe me, there is a difference.
Learning about a peccadillo your 2nd great-uncle was involved in is much different than learning he was a mass murderer. So what should you as an historian do when you find a skeleton leering out at you from behind a long-forgotten record? Do you shove him back or do you let him out? The answer depends. Yes, it really depends on the situation.
Will letting him out hurt someone now living? Will revealing this skeleton cause more pain in your family? Or is it so long ago or so minor compared to what goes on today that no one really cares? These are the issues we as genealogists must consider each day. Will what I post online cause pain to someone I love? If your answer is yes, my suggestion is to hold it back and wait for a more suitable time to reveal that particular skeleton. You might have to wait years but it is something you won’t regret. As genealogists we love knowledge in all its facets, however that love is not something shared equally in our families. If keeping that skeleton hidden just a couple of more years is going to protect great-aunt Miranda from learning about something objectionable her father did 90 years earlier, than do it. You won’t regret it.