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Tips on Digging Deeper

October 26, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY

To those tempted to dig into their family past to understand scandals that may have been brushed off or ignored over time, psychologists offer these suggestions:

* Figure out why you want to know. Barry Slone suggests starting the process by identifying your specific goals and understanding the motivation to learn more.

* Prepare for a challenge. Digging for scandal information is fraught with conflict, so it is important to understand why the relative who may know something is holding back, Slone said. "Say something like, 'Please help me to understand what you perceive might be the disadvantages of my learning about this situation,' " he suggested. Such an approach may open up discussion.

* Try to find a cohort to join you. Slone suggests finding an ally in the family who can appreciate your interest and help communicate it to relatives. Chaytor Mason said curious family members can easily be labeled as dirt diggers. "It's a common defensive tactic by people who feel guilty," he said.

* Tell your children what you can. Mason advises parents to try to be frank with their children and to give them all the information they need so they can understand and embrace their personal family history. In some cases, the information will provide valuable genetic clues to diseases and other propensities; in other cases, it's just valuable to know you know, he said.

* Seek records. For those who face a flat-out roadblock, Mason recommends genealogical research or scouring old newspapers from the era and town for potential clues.

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