Pat, his sister Catriona, and their brothers have distinct ideas of how the deaths of their grandfathers came about. Pat told me that he had thought his maternal grandfather had been shot by British authorities when they discovered his involvement with the IRA. His brother, however, told him that their grandfather had died of influenza in 1916. Catriona, on the other hand, had associated the story of her grandfather being shot by the British with her paternal grandfather and was surprised to find out through her research that he had died in a shooting accident.
This kind of variation of the same story within one family is not uncommon and has been explored by literary scholar Irene Kacandes (the author I mention in the clip) in her book Daddy’s War: Greek American Stories (2009). She closely examines her father’s experience in Greece during the Second World War and addresses questions of intergenerational trauma and postmemory – a term coined by Holocaust historian Marianne Hirsch (2008) which describes the memories of a generation who are deeply affected by the traumatic experiences and memories of the generation preceding it. Kacandes considers the picture painted by the stories her father told her as well as how and why her perception differs from that of her siblings. Recounting what she and her family thought they knew and comparing it to what she discovered through her research led her to conclude that achieving historical accuracy is less important than understanding why certain stories were told (and told often) in a particular way.
As Pat says, these kinds of central family stories influence our perceptions about personal and wider histories and it can be unsettling to find out the situation is other than what we originally thought. Such an experience can have a profound effect on how we relate to the past and the stories that shape who we understand ourselves to be.