Journal Entry: The Families

I learned early on not to try and explain what I was really doing when I talked to the families, usually grandchildren. It still feels a little dishonest and makes me uncomfortable and yet fundamentally I am telling the truth. I identify as an ethnographer conducting research on some topic relevant to the life I am investigating. This reframing of my work, a white lie for expediency sake and access, helped me realize that these fabled lives were all public lives. They’re not all famous lives, though a significant number are well documented lives. None of them lived in obscurity. Those who did not gain any notoriety outside their own community were nevertheless well known inside their community.

That’s why my white lie works. The grandchildren, the grand-nephews and nieces, are never surprised to hear someone is researching this person from their family tree, and they are never without stories. If there is one thing that confirms my suspicions more than anything else when I am tracking a fabled life it is the stories their families tell. I could never hear them all.

So I know this, fabled lives beget stories, as it seems they should.


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