Would you tell your children about slave-owning ancestors? Here at Finders International, we’ve often pondered the drawbacks to family history research and what it might reveal.

Heroes and heroines might be commonplace, but so too are villains and criminals. A CNN Parents post looked at what happened to Ben Affleck when he agreed to take part in the documentary series Finding Your Roots.

Affleck discovered one of his ancestors was a slave owner and admitted via Facebook that he didn’t want a television show about his family to include this man. Hacked emails showed that Affleck had asked for the part about his slave-owning ancestor to be removed from the programme.

Be Honest
According to the CNN article by Kelly Wallace, the best option for families exploring their family history together is for parents to be honest with children. The article quotes from writer and best-selling author A J Jacobs, an expert on genealogy and organiser of the Global Family Reunion, saying we all have “horrible, horrible relatives” and that by the eighth generation a family tree will have some 4,000 relatives on it.

Four thousand people can’t all be good citizens… Jacobs advocates making a positive choice to focus on the “good” family members.

Affleck has said that he regrets asking for the slave-owning ancestry revelation to be taken out – as it could have been used for a teaching moment for his three children.

Part of Something Bigger
Jacobs feels that children learning the good and bad about their family history serves purposes such as learning that they are part of something much bigger, and learning that they can make choices about what paths to follow.

He also mentions that it makes the subject of history much more interesting for children and young people – having a personal connection to certain periods of history can bring the subject alive.

Wallace says research has shown that children who have been told about their ancestors and who know a great deal about their past are “better adjusted and more resilient in the face of challenges”. The research comes from a study, Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being that involved asking children questions such as whether they knew where their parents met and where they grew up and went to school.

Higher Self-Esteem
Conducted by Emory University, the report’s authors found that the more children knew about their family history, the higher their own self-esteem and the better their ability to deal with the effects of stress.

“Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world,” the researchers said.

Jacobs said he thought genealogy was eye-opening and that it made people aware of how inter-connected we all are, making it harder to be racist or narrow-minded.

Have you carried out family history research with your children? How did you deal with the “baddies” – and the goodies? We’d love to know. Contact us through our Facebook page or Tweet us @findersprobate