Many genealogists and family historians are fortunate to have memoirs, diaries, journals, or letters written by their ancestors, but what—besides storing them safely, making copies for other family members, and perhaps donating them to an appropriate library—should we do with such treasures? An ancestor’s papers may help flesh out the bare bones of the birth, marriage, and death facts of our pedigrees, but they can also pose problems for the researcher. What can we believe in grandmother’s diary? Is great-grandfather’s description of his life in public service factual, or a cover-up? Are there hidden meanings to be found just beneath the surface of your family papers? Do letters reveal a family secret long suppressed? Do inherited personal or business papers contain important clues for the family researcher? How does the researcher cope with such questions?
Using as a case history her own experience with her father’s papers, Dr. Barbara B. Reitt will describe what she learned in a four-year search for truths long hidden by the family and what compelled her to respond to her late father’s memoirs by researching and writing a biography of his grandmother. Her talk will be followed by discussion among audience members of their own approaches to problems lurking in their family papers.
Dr. Reitt, who has a doctorate in American Studies, recently retired after more than 40 years as an editor of academic and scientific books. She has been researching her family history for more than 20 years and is currently teaching a course in beginning genealogy in the Five College Learning in Retirement association in the Pioneer Valley.