I have just finished reading The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. This is an almost perfect blending of family history with the politics and events that underpinned it. The author’s story of the rise and fall of a great European Jewish family and their lost inheritance is reflected through a collection Japanese netsuke, tiny art works that had themselves been displaced from the culture that made them.
He also writes about the need to preserve but sometimes to let go of family memories and possessions. He describes how his grandmother destroyed her letters
There is something about that burning of all those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and be brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? Why not let thirty years of shared conversation go spiralling in ash up into the air of Tunbridge Wells? Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on. Losing things can sometimes gain you a space in which to live.
As a family historian this should shock me, but it does not because not all family memories are there to be shared, there a limitations om what we should know or reveal. Family history can be a dangerous place, it can hurt, disturb or destroy. Let’s remember to be careful with it.