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Family Secrets: Emotional Fallout from Genealogical Research

Often considered a wholesome activity assigned to children as schoolwork to help them connect with history and geography lessons, anyone embarking on a genealogy research project should be prepared for the unexpected.


Chapman Bros. Lith. Chicago. Family record of [blank]. Circa 1888. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Responses to genealogical discoveries run the gamut from joy to guilt to confusion to anger. Whether waiting for DNA test results or digging through a relative's personal papers, genealogists can find events and evidence of relationships or attitudes that might be unexpected.

School assignments intended to help students connect with history or inspire inclusivity and belonging might actually expose old wounds and resentments. Some preparation can help students and parents anticipate unexpected responses and create healthy ways to deal with old hurts or new information.

Sometimes genealogy researchers become overwhelmed by the emotions they experience in the course of research and building a more complete picture of their ancestors and their associates. This research guide points toward resources to help researchers understand what they are experiencing and how they might deal with unexpected emotions.

About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.