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Monday, March 4, 2013

Dealing with Crazy (Relatives)

Warning: If you are imbued with an active sense of political correctness, you may as well ignore this post. I make no pretense at maintaining any significant amount of political correctness.

I have a saying, "I don't deal with stupid and I don't deal with crazy." Well, that's a nice thing to say, but in reality I have to deal frequently with both. I fully realize that some of my married children will not allow my grandchildren to use either word in referring to other people. I use the term stupid in its generic sense and I do not usually apply the term to individuals but to their actions. I fully realize that many of the things that I have done fall well into that category.

I also realize that in this liberal age of "feel good" and "self esteem" it is politically incorrect to refer to either term. Hence, the warning at the beginning of this post.

Stupid mistakes can be corrected and the stupid individual can often be educated or ignored. It is much harder to ignore the damage that a stupid person can impose in the area of genealogical research. But it can be done. For example, in looking at online family trees posted about my ancestors, I continually find references to dates that are historically impossible such as a relative born in Utah almost 100 years before the first pioneers or in Arizona in the same time period. This type of error is just stupid and can usually be corrected and is not too likely to be included in a more permanent publication.

However, crazy is harder, much harder, to deal with. If a person is crazy, you cannot educate him or her and in the end, it is nearly impossible to ignore them.

Genealogy, as a pursuit, has its quota of both categories. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, looking at online family trees there is an abundance of the first category. But crazy is unpredictable and much more difficult to deal with. I am not here talking about people with mental illness as such, but rather people, otherwise sane, who do things that are outside the realm of logic and predictability. I am talking about people who, for whatever reason, approach genealogy as if it were a competitive sport or a war to be won. They have the attitude of "don't confuse me with the facts, I am always right."

You might encounter such a person who keeps changing your online entries to suit their own personal view of the pedigree irrespective of any sources or facts you can supply. They just keep ignoring the facts and persist in a pattern of imposing their view without admitting in the slightest that they might be wrong. In fact, you are branded as stupid or even dishonest in trying to oppose their personal beliefs. It is as if you do not have the right to question them in anything they do, but everything you do is wrong and should be condemned and must immediately be corrected. No matter how hard you try to ignore such a person, you cannot do it and remain involved in genealogy. If this person is a particularly close relative, you may have to abandon a whole line of research until the other person retires from the field.

Sometimes this attitude is demonstrated in an unsupported belief in a relationship to royalty or claiming a relationship to a famous person. The problem also surfaces when the person dogmatically refuses to accept a marriage or the existence of a child. They may systematically try to connect your pedigree with a more prosperous line that is supported by the facts. If these positions are taken by a normal genealogical researcher, when they are shown the facts, they immediately change their mind. Not so, the crazy. They will continue to harass and speak ill of you and your research efforts even when the evidence becomes overwhelming in your favor.

I could give some specific examples of this type of behavior, but in the interests of avoiding another round of conflict, I demur.

So how do you handle a crazy relative? You must begin by trying to understand how this apparently sane person came to the incorrect conclusions. If this situation has developed in a close family relationship, then you may wish to enlist the help of a noted, well-respected outsider to arbitrate the issue. Sometimes a third party can convince the otherwise unreasonable person to cease and desist. In some cases, it may be necessary to withdraw communication. Keep the person out of your files and your life. Do your own research and wait until your relative has passed away or retired from the field and then make the effort to clear the record.

It is true that the damage may already have been done and copied so many times that cleaning up the error may be beyond your ability. But, nonetheless, keep at it. Perseverance pays off. Truth will ultimately prevail.

In every case, it is extremely important to maintain your own sanity. Look at the facts. Ask for help from those with more experience. Forget foolish ideas such as the importance of spelling and family traditions and look at the facts as they are presented in the record. Abandon preconceptions if they are unsupported by facts. All of these attitudes will help you to avoid falling into the trap of being a crazy genealogical researcher.

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