The black sheep of the family is someone who makes bad decisions or has a bad reputation within a family unit.” The Idiom Dictionary
By Betsy Cross Thorpe
I had misgivings about using this week’s writing prompt as soon as I saw it. The prompt is Black Sheep. My objections are based on the premise that the black sheep of a family is a person who is excluded or disapproved of by the rest of the family. People are considered black sheep for many different reasons. Changing religions, dropping out of school, marrying without parental consent, or engaging in other forms of conduct outside the norm of accepted behavior can cause some people to be shunned by members of their own family.
Are there any black sheep lurking on the branches of my family tree? I really can’t say. I’m just now getting acquainted with my ancestors. There are a few that I have come to know quite well, but my family tree is crowded with the names of many that I don’t know anything about and I don’t know if any of them fit into that category. And even if I did know, I wouldn’t write about them. Family dynamics are complicated. They are seldom understood by people outside the immediate circle of relatives. So how could a distant descendent like me undrestand? Who am I to publicly speculate on the nature of relationships between people who lived and died long before I was born?
This raises some questions. Do genealogists and family historians have an ethical duty to record and report everything they learn about their ancestors? Should secrets remain secret even when there is no one alive to be harmed by the telling? Ancestors are shared by many. Who gets to say what should or shouldn’t be published about a shared ancestor?
As a writer of history, I have thought long and hard about how to write about people from the past. From the mundane to the shocking, there are many kinds of stories, but out of consideration for the privacy of others who can no longer tell their side of the story I recognize that all of them are not for me to tell.