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Oct 21, 2011

Published Oct 20, 2011

Fire up your Kindle!  In this episode I'm going to introduce you to the author or a riveting book full of secrets, family history, and discoveries!


GEM: Interview with Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie's Ghosts

We’re going to mix things up a bit in this episode, and I want to start off with an email I received recently from Jay in New York who writes:


“I have been catching up with all of your family history podcasts. Over the years I have collected a wealth of information on the family. Some good, some not-so-good, some out in-the-open, some hidden.


How do you deal with revealing "forgotten" items about family members to other family members? I had an uncle who had a marriage at a very young age, and would like to have forgotten about it. My mother told me about it. I put it on the tree. While showing off the fruits of my labor to his family this "forgotten" marriage was revealed with not happy responses.


The things we find in our tree may not always be "good", How does a person deal with that? and revealing it to others?”


This is a great questions, and it’s sort of a cooincidence that this episode’s publish date coincides with Family history Month and Halloween because we’re going to explore ghosts and skeletons in the closet.


But actually there’s nothing really spooky here, but rather these are things that can be found in many family.  Secrets, small and large.  Skeletons in the closet that are often closely guarded by others in our family.


It’s a tricky business navigating your way through the shakier branches of the family tree, so I’ve invited a special guest to the show who has done an incredible job of climbing those branches in his own family.


Steve Luxenberg is a Washington Post associate editor and award-winning author. In his 25 years at The Post, he has headed the newspaper’s investigative staff and its Sunday section of commentary and opinion.  Steve is going to join me for the full episode to talk about investigating and dealing with family secrets as he did in  his book Annie’s Ghost.  It’s a riveting tale that kept me feverishly tapping the “Next Page” key on my kindle. 


Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret is about a family secret that Steve stumbled upon in the late 1990s.  His mother, who had always claimed to be an only child, had a sister, Annie.  And while that was a big surprise all by itself, it was just the beginning of a series of secrets and revelations that Steve unearthed by tapping into his long career as an investigative journalist, and employing newly found genealogy techniques and strategies. 

In this interview we talk about being aware of what’s missing in records and stories, rather than just focusing on what is on the page.  For those of you who are Premium Members this discussion is a great follow up to Premium Episode #77 where we talked about being more keenly aware during our research.

Steve’s also going to share he thoughts on storytelling, which he truly masters in this book. 


And then we get into some of the genealogical techniques he used.  How to avoid Tainting Memories in Interviews, and how to balance the give and take as well as win trust with the person you are interviewing.  And speaking of trust Steve describes how he was able to be incredibly successful in obtaining sensitive documents and getting cooperation from various government agencies and other repositories.


He’s also going to tell us about a little known legal maneuver that he made that really made the difference for him in obtaining some of the most closely held documents and how you can use it too!


And finally he’ll share his personal feelings about what it was like to get a add a new member to his family, his long lost Aunt Annie.


Resources Mentioned:

Dillingham Commission's report on immigration, in digitized form, courtesy of the Stanford U. library. Vol. 4 describes immigration conditions in Europe (much of it focusing on Italy, if I remember correctly), and Vol 37 examines voyage conditions, focusing on steerage.



Quotes from Annie’s Ghosts: 

“What I didn’t expect, as the week wore on, was that the family would expand to take in a new member.  But that’s what happened.  As people dipped in and out of the records, as the debates flew about what we knew and what we didn’t and whether we should be digging around in the past, Annie gradually became a part of the family consciousness.  She was no longer just a name on a hospital record.  She was no longer just a secret.”


I stopped thinking like a son and started thinking like a journalist.”


“I offer to send her the letters; it’s an unexpected present for her, and I’m glad to be able to make the offer, because it allows me to give as well as take, something reporters can’t often do. It’s also a good way to win trust.” 


“I want to make sure that if she knows about Annie, she tells me before I tell her, so that I capture her spontaneious memory first.”


Stay tune - Episode 121 wil feature part 2 of this interview.  App users: check out the Behind the Scenes Steve and Lisa video!