I’m pretty sure there is no such word as "Correctness", but it says what I mean, and I’m willing not to be worried about correctness (drat, did it again) today. The origin of the idea came to me when I was filling out paperwork before undergoing an MRI. For those who have successfully avoided this particular test, it relies on the use of high levels of magnetic fields to scan your internals, producing images much like an X-ray, but without the radiation risks. However, I found that there is one risk associated with MRI. You’re not supposed to have metal objects in your body. The wrong type of metal may be moved by the strong magnetic fields that you are exposed to.

Thus, I found a question on the form that asked, to the effect, "Do you have any metal objects internally?" I answered "yes" and on the next line, explained that I have been carrying around shotgun pellets for nearly 30 years. The next question asked "Where". I answered that I didn’t know exactly where all the pellets were, but that the initial wounds ranged from my ankle to my chin.

This answer brought the whole deal to a halt when the technician read the form. It seems that there is a danger of causing metal objects to relocate during the MRI. She began to ask questions. I explained it was a hunting accident. She asked what I was hunting. I said "rabbits". She heard "bunnies". I believe whatever empathy she may have had for my old wound, disappeared. I’m guessing her family didn’t hunt. I’m also guessing that she probably had an Easter bunny when she was small, and the bunny died before it began to eat up the house. Anyway, I got my MRI, but not until I convinced them that this was an old wound, when LEAD pellets were still used. Lead is not magnetic, and thus would not be affected by the MRI. (Warning folks, I think they use steel pellets now…). However, I did have the feeling that the technician was of the opinion that if the had moved and caused harm, "I got what was coming to me."

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, she was from a newer generation. She was isolated from hunting, which was more prevalent and more acceptable in my generation. I was, in her eyes, a killer of bunnies. She carried her values into my generation.

In doing genealogical research, we need to be aware of this all-too-human characteristic. We need to try to view our ancestors and their behavior, to the extent possible, from within their cultural setting. Many of our ancestors killed "Indians" – ("Native Americans", if you prefer, although they were not native to North America, they just got here earlier). Atrocities occurred as Europeans moved west from the Atlantic Coast. It was a war, not unlike many others we have fought. Was it justified? That depends upon who you are, and what perspective you carry.

But it is history. If you judge your ancestors by your values, in the comfort of your air-conditioned home, plunking away on a computer, you are doing yourself and your ancestors a disservice. Sanitizing your family history does you and your family a disservice. Truth in history is an elusive beast, at best. It is often lost in honest mistakes. We need not bury more of it by intentional "oversight" or flat-out misrepresentation.

After getting up on this soapbox, I must now step down and hedge my statement. Sometimes discretion has merit in family history. This is particularly true in relatively recent history. There are murderers, rapists, and other evildoers who have to be somebody’s relatives. Such acts, particularly if they are relatively recent events, probably need not be highlighted in the family history. Recent events of this nature are more likely to inflict pain on family members, and offer little to justify that harm. Sometimes it is best to just look away, and let another researcher a hundred years down the road find it and include it then.

I recall reading a book awhile back where a descendant was, in effect, apologizing because an ancestor had been a slave owner. Shame on that author. He is not responsible for the action or inaction of an ancestor. Perhaps more relevant, he failed to view the event – owning slaves – in its historical perspective.

However, I do recall a personal experience involving slave-ownership while I was doing Hogan research in southern Kentucky. There was a wealthy Hogan family in Logan County, Kentucky which I thought, for a while, was likely to be my kin. I went there, investigated the library, talked with some Hogan-kin who lived in the area, and ended up along a gravel road, looking for an overgrown, mostly abandoned Hogan cemetery. I finally found it, and stopped the car along the road. There were a few stones clearly visible from the road, although the brush was thick and uninviting. There was a house on the other side of the road, set back some distance. As I stood by my car, debating whether I really wanted to thrash through the briars and tangles, a black man approached me carrying a pistol. The pistol was not pointed at me, but it was clearly visible and seemed to have a bore about a foot in diameter. I explained to him what I was up to, giving "the who" synopsis. He listened and then responded that his maternal great grandmother was a Hogan. She had been a slave for the Hogans and had taken their name as her own. He added, almost as an afterthought, "Of course, she was black." The cemetery was a black cemetery and most were his kin. I heard the message, understood his concern for the cemetery, and decided that I need not investigate it. Did I mention how big the bore was on that gun? It was not the time to discuss historical perspective.

As a side note, these Hogans were not my direct line kin. It appears mine was a Hogan, passing through from North Carolina that met a woman in Kentucky, and married her across the line, in Tennessee. He did this (marrying in Tennessee), I’m sure, just to frustrate me in my search of the Hogan line.

But, back to the subject. We are a warring species. Over the centuries, men have killed men in the name of about every possible cause – land, kin, religion, politics, power, and oil, to name a few. Looking at the events of my lifetime, I don’t believe we should be too harsh on our ancestors. "Judge not, least ye be judged."

So, I’ve rambled a long way from the MRI technician who believes that I am a "bunny killer" and probably deserve whatever bad things come my way. But my point is, we can get a little carried away with the imposition of our values upon our ancestors. Genealogists not only do it, but small Liberal Art colleges can even fall to this weakness. Call me an old stubborn man, but I still like "Old Siwash" and I’m really proud that the minor league baseball team in Indianapolis is "The Indians" and they have a Tee Pee in their stadium.

Do your genealogy carefully, but leave your value judgments at home. (And they were rabbits, not bunnies).