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Guilt or pride in your ancestors

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Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby The Denson Clan » Wed Nov 24, 2010 10:30 am

When you find out about a bad deed perpatrated by one of your ancestors, do you feel any kind of shame or guilt on thier behalf? Conversely, do you feel proud to hear of a good deed.

I see this quite often on WDYTYA shows.

For example, I recently discovered two ancestors. The first had been shipped to Australia for committing a rape. The second had been a prominent merchant and had many dealings in the slave trade.

On the other hand, I found out that one of my relatives had won the DCM for bravery during WWI.

SHould I feel any shame for the wrongs of my ancestors? Does it matter about how much time has passed since the events.

I know this is very much a subjective topic, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby Tilliduff » Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:17 pm

Perhaps I'm being picky :) I feel proud of my ancestor who won a medal for bravery in getting all the crew of a shipwreck in the 1850's. However I feel no shame about the dealings of three of my ancestors who spent time in gaol - two in Bodmin Gaol for election fraud in 1819 - Grampound was disenfranchised because of them and others. And another was sentenced at The Old Bailey in 1844 to a term of imprisonment of one year for stealing from her employer. I think it is so exciting that this information is available to us - some of it not on line *yet* but research does bring it up. It really brings the history alive.

Possibly, in fact probably, I would feel shame if I found some shameful dealings by a great-grandparent or a generation further back, but by the time I get a few "great"s in there it is too far removed I think.

Also I think you do have to take the mores of the times into consideration. I do wonder about an ancestor who was a sugar-planter in Antigua. I have no evidence that he had slaves, but he probably did. But there were people who treated slaves well. His brother went out as a doctor to treat the island people, and they came from a family of ministers of the Scottish kirk, so I am hoping that although his slaves were not free they did have a reasonable life otherwise.
Chris

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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby debsstock » Wed Nov 24, 2010 5:08 pm

This is an interesting question.

Personally I don't feel any guilt/shame or pride about the actions of my ancestors, even if they are quite close in time. I think that I would only feel those emotions if I had had some influence in the way that the people behaved, and of course that's not possible retrospectively. You CAN feel guilt or pride over your own actions, and probably over the actions of your offspring, or others you have influenced directly (such as pupils if you are a teacher).

I also think that we have to be careful about making judgements about our ancestors based on our own morals/ideals - their circumstances may have been quite different, as probably were the standards and expectations of their own time, although I accept that there are undoubtedly some actions that would never really be condonable.

However, I do feel pleased if an ancestor has done something praiseworthy, or disappointed if they have acted poorly. I think that as descendants we can learn a lot from looking at the things that our forebears did, and use them as examples for our own lives. That's one of the major benefits of studying history after all, and family history is no exception!
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby The Denson Clan » Wed Nov 24, 2010 5:39 pm

I agree that the 'wrongdoing' has to be taken in context of the times.

I also think that in a lot of cases, all we find out about our ancestors are dates and places. When you find out about what an ancestor did, whether it be good bad or indifferent, it allows you to attempt to relate to that ancestor in a way that vital statistics don't.
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby colliehouse » Wed Nov 24, 2010 5:57 pm

I agree. I have a string of alcoholics as well as a bigamist in my recent family history. I have yet to find anyone who seems to have excelled in any way but I have pleasure in their minor triumphs such as raising 10 children to adulthood. Although I am not proud of their wrong doings I don't feel any shame about it. Their times were different and their circumstances very hard. I feel sad that they found themselves in situations that led to their deeds and think myself very fortunate to not have had to survive in poverty as they did.
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby ksouthall » Sat Nov 27, 2010 12:46 am

colliehouse wrote:I agree......Although I am not proud of their wrong doings I don't feel any shame about it. Their times were different and their circumstances very hard. I feel sad that they found themselves in situations that led to their deeds and think myself very fortunate to not have had to survive in poverty as they did.


I also agree. We can't change what our ancestors did so we just have to live with it as their times were different to ours.
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 28, 2010 8:39 am

There are no black and white answers to those questions.
Much depends on how distant they are and the custom of the time period.
We can only share guilt for the times we live in and those that follow as our actions influence them. We cannot influence history.

An ancestor who traded opium in the 19th century is not the same as an ancestor form the 20th century trading opium.
The first was taking part in a legal trade that was encouraged, the second in an illegal trade that was discouraged.

Someone mentioned slaves.
Much people waffle on about slavery as if it was an invention of modern times and the plantations. It wasn’t, slavery had been going on for centuries.
African tribes enslaved members of other African tribes long before the “white man” ever visited Africa. In the UK there were slaves in Anglo-Saxon times; it was an ancient custom the Greeks and the Romans owned slaves.
If we go back far enough and every one of us will have ancestors who owned slaves and ancestors who were slaves.

Many slaves enjoyed a better quality of life being a slave, but at the same time, many suffered through slavery.
Our ancestors were the children of their times, formed and moulded by the world they lived in, they were not 21st century people.
Cheers
Guy
As we have gained from the past, we owe the future a debt, which we pay by sharing today.
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby Tilliduff » Sun Nov 28, 2010 10:29 am

Guy, I totally agree with what you say about slavery. But it always needs someone with avant-garde thinking to bring an end to these practices, and there had been no effective slavery in Britain after the Black Death until we started the slavery business from Africa to the West Indies using our shipping ports. The fact that slavery has always happened doesn't make it right, and to think that your ancestors might actually have had a hand in making things better if not actually stopping it is somewhat comforting.
Chris

Browns of St. Erme and Grampound, Cornwall, Henwoods of Devon and Cornwall, Tilliduffs from East London, originally Aberdeenshire
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 28, 2010 10:20 pm

First, I did not write I agreed with slavery but rather that it existed.

Since the Black Death does that mean from the end of the first wave in the 14th century or the end of the last wave in the 17th century?

It does not really matter as England was an active participant in the slave trade throughout history until its abolition in 1833.

Perhaps the many Irish transported into slavery in the West Indies in the mid 17th century have slipped your mind. Or the poor condemned to forced labour in the workhouse, something does not have to be termed slavery to be slavery. Then again there was the ethnic cleansing of Gypsies who were transported as slaves to North America and the Caribbean.

The terms may have changed the reality stayed the same.
Cheers
Guy
As we have gained from the past, we owe the future a debt, which we pay by sharing today.
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Re: Guilt or pride in your ancestors

Postby Tilliduff » Mon Nov 29, 2010 9:00 am

Yes, it was the 14th century Black Death that ended the feudal system in Britain due to the shortage of labour - it gave the villeins the power to demand more.

And yes there have been other forms of slavery but surely none in Britain so widespread as the Africa-West Indies trade. At all that took to end it was a thinker - Wilberforce (and others).
Chris

Browns of St. Erme and Grampound, Cornwall, Henwoods of Devon and Cornwall, Tilliduffs from East London, originally Aberdeenshire
Tilliduff
 
Posts: 135
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2008 4:40 am
Location: Aberlour Moray

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