Dear Annie: I have been doing a lot of family-tree research and recently learned that my ancestors owned slaves from the early 18th century until the end of the Civil War, when my last slave-owning ancestor was shot in the head by Union troops.
My problem is, one of my brothers married an African-American woman, and they have two young daughters. I am close to my brother and his wife, and I adore my mixed-race nieces, who identify as black. My family considers me the repository of ancestral information. What on earth do I tell them? I worry that it would be terribly difficult for them to learn that their ancestors were slave owners and fought on the side of the Confederacy. Family lore, as well as official records, indicates that my ancestors didn’t own many slaves and were not cruel people, but still.
I can easily talk to my nieces about those European ancestors who never came to America, many of whom were members of the aristocracy. But I feel an obligation to tell the truth about all of their relatives if they should ask.
How do I talk to them about this in a sensitive way? I know they eventually could find out on their own if they bother to search, because it’s in the public record. Most of all, I want my nieces to know how much we love them, that I find the family’s slavery past shameful, and that we are proud that our family has become more diverse. But it still doesn’t erase what happened. Please help.
Dear K.C.: You are taking on more blame than necessary for your family’s past. Talk to your sister-in-law. Tell her what you discovered in your research, and add what you told us — that you love your brother’s family and find your slavery past shameful. Should these nieces someday become interested in their family history, they will want this information, warts and all, and are entitled to have it. The most important thing is to reassure them of your love.
Dear Annie: I work in a doctor’s office as a receptionist. I was with a customer (a salesman), and another receptionist was with a patient. At some point during this time, another patient apparently came in. I was away from the front desk to take the salesman where he needed to go. The patient who came in texted the doctor, saying she was ignored and his staff is incompetent and rude.
Our office manager instructed us that we essentially are to push aside salesmen, drug reps, etc., in order to take care of the patient. I disagree. I was waiting on this salesman and believe I should stay with that person until I am finished. Who is right?
— Etiquette Confused
Dear Confused: Your office manager. That salesperson was not a customer. He was there to sell you something. The “customer” is the patient, and the patient always comes first. Rest assured, the salesperson will be fine waiting until you are finished taking care of the people who are actually paying for your services.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from “N.N.,” whose husband is severely depressed and she is thinking of leaving him because she doesn’t see the situation improving. Your advice did not go far enough. The wife should revisit her marriage vows. Wasn’t there something in there about “in sickness and in health”? If her husband was healthy and she became sick, would she want him to leave her?
My wife suffered a massive stroke when she was 35. When she was 50, she was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. I left my career to care for her at home and became a trained kidney-dialysis technician. I didn’t run away. If the situations were reversed, she would do the same. That’s what marriage is all about.
— Tamarac, Fla.
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