Spilling the Family History Tea (with Dr. Sharon Staples)
Have you ever heard the term “spill the tea”? In recent contexts, this phrase means to perpetuate gossip or rumors. But is spreading gossip and rumors always a bad thing? In family history, it might not be. For this episode, we invited Dr. Sharon Staples to discuss what gossip has to do with family history and whether it can be used as a clue to learn more about our lineage.
Miya, Sharon. Do you guys like herbal tea?
I love tea.
What's your favorite like flavor?
Sharon Staples 0:10
I like chamomile.
Yes. I love vanilla chamomile that's my favorite.
And with sugar or honey?
Sharon Staples 0:18
Sharon Staples 0:19
I'm also honey fan.
Do you like cream?
Sharon Staples 0:26
No, no straight.
You like it straight?
Sharon Staples 0:28
I like it straight. Straight, strong, and honeyed.
That sounds like, like a life lesson you could apply.
Sharon Staples 0:36
It is actually.
I love that.
Now, let me warn you both that the tea is hot today. And if you didn't already know the phrase "spill the tea" is another way of saying "give me that gossip." And today's episode is all about gossip and family history and how they work together.
You're listening to the Love Your Lineage podcast by LDS Living, a multifaceted shame-free approach to family history. I'm Miya.
And I'm Michelle. And we want to help you find your space and claim your place in your family history story. So I've heard it said that gossip is talking about people who are not present. That would mean everything we do in family history work, including talking about our ancestors is gossip.
And to help us spill the tea today is our good friend Sharon. And you might have recognized her voice at the beginning because she has been featured on the Sunday on Monday podcast show. So Sharon, welcome. We're so thankful to have you here. Could you tell us a little bit more about who you are professionally and as well as in your family history?
Sharon Staples 1:54
You bet love to talk about myself. Yay! My education is a PhD in educational psychology. And that's an umbrella over school psychology, psychological research, counseling and psychotherapy. So that covers a broad spectrum of many disciplines in the psychology area. And I got my PhD at the University of Utah. I did private practice for a while and then worked for LDS Social Services for a while. And then began teaching at Utah Valley University when it was just a technical college and worked there for many, many, many years and loved it.
I wish we had so much time because I would love to be like, how did you get into it? What do you think about it?
Sharon Staples 2:35
You know, if we have time I could psychoanalyze you after, you know?
That might get a little scary, but I'm down.
Sharon Staples 2:41
It gets very scary.
So Sharon, tell us a little bit more about your family history.
Sharon Staples 2:48
I got into my family history work by being a docent at the Church History Museum, where we had to memorize and give tours for people about the history of the Church. The history, Joseph Smith, of Emma Smith, all of that. And so that intrigued me. And after that I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Family Search Library downtown Salt Lake for a number of years. And that really got me in meshed in it. And then I worked at the Jordan River Family History for a while. So I was never enamored with doing genealogy with doing family search until I began participating in actual activities in those various institutions and then loved it and have been doing family search ever since trying to find out who my Irish ancestors are, are my Scottish ancestors, my British ancestors, my Norwegian ancestors. It's a full gamut of nationalities that I'm trying to find who they are and how they lived and what they did. And it's just exciting. I love it.
You've got the spark. See, I want you all to realize what's happening in this moment. You could go your whole life hating family history, or maybe not even hating it just not being interested in it. And then one day, the sparkplug dies, and so...
Sharon Staples 4:06
I think that's called the spirit of Elijah.
Yes. Yeah, that's what it's called.
The spark the spirit. Yes, yes to all of it.
Sharon Staples 4:13
And it was important for me to have a friend tell me that if I had a roadblock, and I couldn't get any further, don't be embarrassed or ashamed to hire a professional genealogist, which is what I did. And it made all the difference in the world. It just opened up families unbelievably. It can be expensive and time consuming. However, if you're interested in your family, it's worth every penny. So don't be ashamed to hire professional genealogist.
It is exciting and thrilling and shameless. Plug for Miya that she is a geneologist.
A shout out to all my other genealogists out there who are trying to get paid to help people. So thank you for that, Sharon, yes, I feel very validated.
Sharon Staples 5:02
No, I, I support that 100%, so...
Thank you so much. We love it. Sharon, we appreciate all your knowledge and education, especially here today. Could you help us understand the origins of the word gossip?
Sharon Staples 5:18
Yes, I have a quote here that I would like to read that explains gossip. "The word gossip originates from the Old English 'god sibb,' spelled s-i-b-b, or 'God's sibling,' meaning godparent. The term was used of those of both genders, who acted as sponsors at a baptism, but also seems to have developed a more specific meaning, describing those women who attended a mother before, during and after birth. These god sibs were invited to witness the birth for the purpose of the child's baptism. And evidence suggests that the presence of a certain number of women was considered necessary. Over time, gossip has come to be associated with a particular activity, that of idle talk, usually about a person."
That was so well read.
That is so fascinating that that is where the word gossip comes from. Because now I mean, Miya and I were just talking about in the car, that gossip just carries this heavy stereotype of something negative and really was like a positive support of the special people in the community.
Supporting the birth of a child, coming into the world.
Who would have thought that's where this word came from?
I never knew that, right?
So family history and gossip. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it both? How do we unpack this, Sharon? Like, is gossip good or bad? Or both?
Sharon Staples 6:49
Well, I can give you a definite yes and no and both? Okay. Meaning it depends on the intent of the person speaking, the conversationalist. In my day, gossip was a very bad thing. And it was a bad word. But because of recent research, and many studies, we learned that gossip, that word, entails good stuff and bad stuff. And so for me, it depends on the intent of the speaker. I know in the medical profession, their first mantra is first, do no harm. And think in gossiping or sharing family ideas, principles, histories, if our intent is to promote that person, that event, that concept, then it's good, then gossip is good. If our intent is to demean or belittle or put down or spread rumors, or whatever it is, then gossip is not good. So the bottom line for me is, why is this person telling me this? Is it to encourage me to find out the truth. Does it encouraged me to do more certain research? Does it encourage me to love my ancestors more to get involved? If that's the intent, then gossip is good?
Or is it encouraging me to feel shame and to hide something away, or right humiliated publicly? So you're right, good, bad, and both?
Yeah. Wow. I was just thinking about what you said how gossip, it entails a verbiage, right? And my genealogist mind is thinking to like, newspapers and written word is also a form of gossip, too. So if it wasn't just spoken, they would publish it or share it in those means. And we have that today, right in the forms of social media now, videos, YouTube, Tik Tok, and all these other ways of sharing information. But it's that question, right? Like, is this good? What's the intent? What are we trying to achieve here? What are we trying to learn or do as a result of what's being shared?
So I actually have a great example of a story for you that is both gossip, and family history and also very complicated. I want to tell you guys the story. Do you guys know who Johnny Cash is? Famous singer and also actor, so I got some tea about his family. So Johnny Cash was first married to Vivian Cash. And there's this famous black and white photo of them walking out of a building and it's black and white, so you can't like see color. But from the photo someone was looking at her and said, "I'm pretty sure she's black." And that was a real problem in that time because it was in the South, there were Jim Crow laws saying that people of different races could not marry, and so this huge rumor, gossip, was going around that Johnny Cash's wife, Vivian, was black, the KKK found out and were threatening the Cash family because of this multiracial marriage, and the whole time they're like, here are these records that she went to only white school; she's Why are her parents are white. So then fast forward to a few years later, their daughter Roseanne is on my ultimate favorite show, like literally no one's allowed to talk to me when the show was on, with Professor Henry Louis Gates called Finding Your Roots. So Roseanne goes on to finding your roots. And the first thing Professor gates brings up is he's like, there was this rumor gossip, that your mom was Black had African ancestry? What do you know about it, and she was like, as far as we knew, that was not true. It was totally gossip. So they did the DNA test. They got professional genealogist in the mix. And sure enough, she's Black. She didn't even know her second great-grandmother was enslaved, and the man that enslaved her was the father of her children. So they were considered what you'd see on documents, family history documents called mulatto. So it was Black, biracial, they were very white-passing. And then they married another white person, which at the time was illegal because of Jim Crow laws. They weren't supposed to get married. So their children were also white-presenting or white-assumed. And so by the time Vivian Cash came along, she literally did not know that was a family secret that they had hid, not only because they were breaking Jim Crow laws, but because there was like the stigma that she was Black and that they were in a biracial marriage. And so something that turned out to be gossip, or rumor, a scandal actually ended up being the tie that led Rosanne Cash to finding out her family history and her connection to enslaved people in the United States. And just all this family history information came unraveled because of this gossip, because of this rumor. Isn't that wild?
It started with the rumor.
It started with gossip.
Your story, Michelle, reaffirms to me that gossip can be a legitimate form of us to connect to our family history, or to be a clue. For me, when I hear the gossip or the rumors in my family. I'm always taking note, one, probably because I'm really nosy, but, two, also because I'm like, that could be something there could be truth behind that. And the Cash family, they found truth because someone said something. So I would hope that those who are listening could take heart that these things that you may hear in your family history, maybe write them down, maybe document them, and then seek out the truth. So Sharon, with your background in sociology and psychology, we're curious to know how discovering family gossip as truth in your family history, how that could affect your identity and how you view yourself?
Sharon Staples 12:56
Well, of course, it would depend on the individual. If the individual receiving the information had a lot of family support and was open minded about what he or she might discover, then it's no big deal. But if they do have a crisis over finding out that this gossip, this rumor, is actually true, then, of course, they would have to seek someone out to help them identify what the confusion is, what the shame is, what the concerns are. So for like in my family, I found out when I was 60 years old, that my father and his brother, my father was 2 and his brother was 4, were kidnapped. They were in Canada, their mother took them to a school in Wyoming, but to kind of a daycare center in those days, so she could work. And every time she would go to visit them, they would say well, they're on a picnic, or they're out to lunch, or they're visiting other people or they've gone to the zoo or and she was never able to see them. And this person who ran this home was taking in these children and then adopting them out to other people. And so when I found that out, I got a little deeper understanding of my father's personality, his character, and what made him the kind of man he was at the time. So I think if a person is open to what they whoever they are did in previous years, they'll be okay. They can understand and it will give them brighter options. It will give them more room to explain and understand who they are individually. It does not have to be a shameful, ugly, terrible crisis situation. It can be a time of, "Aha. Well, this helps me understand my temper, or this helps me understand my shyness, or this helps me understand, why I don't socialize." So if you can learn from, rather than feel shame from, then you're OK, then you're home free.
Thank you so much for that breakdown. And it makes me think so if I'm hearing you, right, having a perspective of curiosity, rather than shame or fear about it and being open to whatever you're going to find.
Sharon Staples 15:23
Absolutely, you didn't do it. You weren't there. OK, so I found out later in life that I had a distant cousin, who was convicted of rustling cattle, he was a bonafide cattle rustler.
Okay, Sharon, I have to ask, can you clarify what does that mean? What is the cattle rustler?
Sharon Staples 15:42
Well, look at cattle rustler is someone who steals other people's cattle. You know, so they go in and they take him and rebrand him and take him for their own. And they found him and convicted him. And I thought, my goodness gracious. There you go.
Yeah. And it just makes you understand different things about your family. It's not meant to be a tool of judgment. The other thing that I got from what you were saying was that it's so important to have community. That when we learn this kind of information, having support having community, to be like, we're in this with you, this is our shared family history as well. Or even if it's just like friends, or neighbors that you feel trusted to just be like, "Hey, it's okay." Someone's probably gonna say, "Oh, I have something like that in my family history, too. It's normal."
Yes. And in speaking about gossip and community, it can be a form of protection for the community. So for example, in my own family history, we have this tragic story of one of my ancestresses is my great grandfather's sister, Wilhemina Meyers, who was just a teenager at the time. Her, her brothers, as well as her father, were taking a shortcut on the way home on the south side of the island of Oahu, which happened to be on a cliff. And as they were walking along the cliff, a huge wave came up, and smashed them against the rocks. And everybody had to hold on tight to each other. But unfortunately, the wave took Wilhemina out from the cliff, out to sea. And what was the most traumatic and tragic thing about the story is that no one knew how to swim. And no one could go in and save their sister and their daughter. And the story was in the newspapers, and it was passed on for generations. And as sad as it is, and it has served as a reminder to my family, how important it is to not only know how to swim, and be a strong swimmer, so that you can help yourself, if you get caught in a riptide, if you get caught pulled out by the waves, or to help somebody who is in distress, but also to serve as a reminder that we need to love and respect the ocean. My dad always said, "Never turn your back on the waves." And I believe that with my heart, not just physically have my back turn of the ocean, but also spiritually. I just share that story with my six-year-old as we go to the beach, as we visit the ocean. This serves as a reminder of how important it is to protect ourselves, to be wise, and to be cautious. So this story, as sad as it is, has served as a function of protection for my family.
That perspective is so good. For many families gossip is the only source of family history information they have access to. It's not the most best reliable source for sure. But it's like the only thing they have. And so I think we can't count it out. We have to be curious and count it in and explore it a little bit, see where it leads. It might be a rumor, but listening to gossip, we definitely don't want to do it in a harmful way. So Sharon, can you help us learn more about how we can use gossip in a positive way? And if we are hearing gossip that is negative, like, how maybe we could stop that cycle?
Sharon Staples 18:59
Well, I don't have all the answers to those questions. However, for my case, it would be, golly, I'd really like to see some data on that I'd really liked again, you know, their actual birthdate? Is that something I can do? Is that something I can access or I'd really like to know, if Aunt Kate really did see that man. Is there some way of our knowing that? Did anyone keep a diary? Did anyone keep a journal? Do we have access to information that would support what you're telling me? I mean, you're telling me really important stuff and stuff I didn't know about my history. I would like to document it if I could and and put it in my journal and put it in my family history. So can you help me find a way to get more information? I would ask those kinds of questions. If they say, "Oh, it's just a rumor." Then I would say "Well, where did you get the rumor? How long ago did you get the rumor? And was anyone else in the room when you got the rumor, and did anyone else hear this? I'd get more information. The more information you can get about a gossip, a rumor, a story, a document, the more secure your family search documentation will be.
Sharon, thank you. That was such great advice about what to do when we receive gossip and how it can be good and helpful. On the flip side, though, gossip can be negative, like we are all aware of. It can be a symptom of a dysfunctional family of families that have struggled or have had a lot of trauma and shame behind them. And sometimes, that's the only information that we receive when we learn about like gossip in our family history. But it doesn't have to end there.
So we can take the gossip with curiosity, and have it be our lead, but how do we make sure that harmful or negative gossip is not being passed around our community or down, you know, as Miya says, down the river in our boats, to future family members?
Sharon Staples 21:00
You don't. You have no control over other people's spreading gossip.
But maybe asking those same questions that you asked yourself that you told us to ask ourselves about? Curious be like, oh, is there documentation of that? Or who? Right?
Sharon Staples 21:14
Yeah. But if someone's going to go behind your back and spread rumors and gossip, you have no control over that, other than you can confront the person and say, "Where did you get that information? How do you know it's true?" In a kind way, you know, not to belittle them or put them down and say it in such a way that you're seeking clarity. So the important thing is to seek clarity and not promote guilt, or shame, or any of those other kinds of things, but it's kind of like a murder mystery. You want to find out who did it. Yeah. And not, you know, try and punish and put them on the guillotine. You know, so asking questions.
This is one of the most exciting parts of family history. For me, it's the detective work, solving that mystery is such a really like cool, thrilling part of family history work that I didn't know existed in my hater days. So. But now that now that I'm a full fledged, you know, family history nerd and love it so much, that is just a really exciting part of my family history. Even though sometimes the end of the mystery is difficult, and having community and, you know, support to process that is so important, like we mentioned before. And I think also becoming a transitional character. We talked about that earlier with Professor Jones, we can be the one that transitions away from like spreading the gossip to harm people.
Thank you both for that explanation. And I kind of want to pivot our conversation to now that we understand that gossip can be, yes, both good and bad. I want to pivot it and ask, what are the functions in of good gossip within our families? What can it be? Is there potential for it to be something better than just tearing us apart or tearing us down?
Sharon Staples 23:01
Yes, it enlightens and it opens doors. And what actually happens is you get what we all know to be the spirit of Elijah. You get the spirit of the importance. And I think it's so significant that people realize today that President Nelson, over his years as a prophet, and as a member of the Council the Twelve, has advised us to gather Israel. And one way is to have them in your own genealogy family sheets that you have. You're bringing in your Irish people, your Scottish people, your British people. Native American, African, whatever our genetic makeup is, President Nelson says, find out who they are, and take them to the temple, gather them into the temple. And that's so significant today, as it has been over the years, but his emphasis on having all of us reach out to our ancestors is awesome. It's amazing. It's wonderful. It can help you receive even the spirit of Elijah, which President Nelson has indicated he wants us to do.
I'm so glad, Sharon, you brought that up because family history work and reuniting the human family and the restoration, that's like one of the pillars of the gospel. But we think all we'll do it when we're older, or we just can check off these boxes and we're done. Like heart turning, curiosity, understanding, exploring, all those facets of family history are so vitally important. And it's just like for those of us who've called the spark fill the spirit of Elijah, we want to share with everybody and that's part of the reason why this podcast exists is we are hoping to enliven that spirit in you and help you to feel excited and curious about family history work.
So the key words that I've been hearing throughout this entire recording is regarding seeking, asking and knocking. This talk reminds me of the story of Mary. After Christ was crucified, He was buried, right. And then He appeared unto her. And He showed himself to her. And after that miraculous moment, she went and told people about it. She literally gossiped about this Savior, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is back. And there were other apostles, I saw her too. And she testified, "No, I saw Him, I saw him with my own two eyes." And her faith and her use of speaking and saying what she saw, it's blessed, not only the people that she actually got to talk to you, but it's blessed us for generations of time. I just can't help but think how, through the spirit of Elijah through the love that we have for the Lord, He asks us to open our mouths and to testify and to share what our experiences are with Him. Even though He may not be here, physically, His spirit as well as the spirit of our family members of our ancestors are present. They want us to speak about them. They want to be remembered, they want to be connected to, and I think that's one of the most beautiful parts and functions of gossip is that it allows us who may not have had personal experiences with either the Divine or with family members, to still be able to connect to them to gather with them, like President Nelson asks us to do. There's so much power behind that.
That perspective is so good. And it totally brings me to poor Thomas, who gets a bad rap for being Doubting Thomas, he gets that nickname. I see so much of Thomas and myself. He's like, "What is this rumor about Christ?" Being like, "That can't be that can't be possible." And I think we find that same sentiment, that same feeling, in family history work, or when a rumor gossip comes up. And just like with Christ and the Church, go find out, go see, ask all the things that you said: knock, seek, ask. I love that you brought that up, Miya.
Sharon Staples 27:13
When the Prophet Joseph Smith received the visitation from Moroni in his bedroom that first night, one of the first things he said was, "Turn the hearts of the children, to the fathers and the fathers to the children." That's a number one priority for us today. Whether we hire a genealogist, whether we spend hours at the family history library, whether we spend hours going through photos, through deeds and documents, whether whatever we do, we are to do it.
Amen. As you're talking, Sharon, I just couldn't help but think about what you said at the beginning. When it comes to gossip if you're trying to find the truth, ask those questions, be curious, be open to receiving. And in a gospel context, like that's all God has ever asked us to do, to seek him out to ask these questions. Regarding Joseph Smith's story, I remember when I asked, when I was a kid, I asked if it was true, and the Spirit revealed that to me that it was. And I just can't help but think that the things we're trying to find out through gossip if our family histories and stories we're hearing are true, it goes hand in hand with trying to know, is God really our loving Heavenly Father? Do we have a loving Heavenly Mother too? Is Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind, throughout all space and time? Was Joseph Smith a prophet? These things were taught to me via gossip. But it didn't become a reality for me until I actually asked about it. And I listened to what the Spirit had to tell me, and then I received it. And my life was enlightened. And it constantly is. And all I hope that through what we do here today, as a podcast show, through those who are listening, that you continue to share, and enlighten those around you with good words, with positivity with these stories, that maybe are very difficult to talk about, yet can be those forces of good to help turn your heart not only to each other, to those who have passed away, but ultimately out to our Heavenly Father. That is the essence of what the spirit of Elijah is all about.
Bravo. Bravo. I love that thought too, because we won't always be able to verify with a document. We know that so many families will not have access to documents, but we always have access to the Spirit. And I can testify also or I can witness also, the the spirit has guided me in my family history work so many times, even when I thought it was impossible. Even when there was no documentation, I was able to find a source of truth.
So now that we have drink our tea, we've spilled it, shared the tea. It's time for the takeaways. So we got three takeaways for you to help us make sure that we are using gossip in a responsible, trustworthy way.
Yes, our first takeaway is to think twice before you do it. I think that's wise counsel for everything in life, not just as when you open your mouth, right. But again, whether you're gossiping in a responsible way or not, it's, it's all a matter of when you're doing it with whom you're doing it, and your intent. And there's also these great reflective questions that I'd like to quote here guarding thinking twice about gossip. So, one, are you stabbing someone in the back by telling that story. Or is that news going to stop something bad from happening? So in your time of thinking twice, take the time to ask yourself these questions. Be reflective, try to understand, is this going to be helpful or harmful?
And I think, something really important I'd like to add, when it comes to like abuse, which is very common in family history, sadly, that, you know, you're like, oh, if telling people about abuse, that could be harmful. And we just want to be really clear that actually telling people about abuse is one of the best things you can do to prevent that abuse from happening again. So even though it's a hard discussion, it's an important discussion to prevent future abuse from happening.
So, if you are interested to learn more about how talking about abuse can be a positive thing, there's a wonderful podcast show through desert book called All In where a sister explains in her episode, that this can be really helpful and positive thing, and we'll put that in our show notes.
OK, and then we got number two here, don't gossip for personal gain. If you're doing it for your own personal gain to make yourself look good, just don't what is other outdoor say? Stop it.
Stop it. Our last takeaway is, don't distort information. So tell it like it is be authentic, and leave the exaggeration at the door. I have to work on that, because I like to exaggerate everything. But there's also another great quote that says, "People often exaggerate what they pass on to make a better or more coherent story, or to justify why they're speaking about someone."
Ooh that smells of family history, to exaggerate or to make a better story. Which I mean, that's fun, but authenticity matters in family history. And we've learned that people can be complex, they are not good nor bad. They are somewhere in the middle.
Sharon Staples 32:42
And I think sometimes people exaggerate things so that they can get the names on the temple list and get them to the temple. For instance, when you're looking at a document, and you see that Aunt Harriet was born in 1907, and someone else has put her as being born in 1832. And I know, from past experience, that I have said, "Oh, well, I'll go with 1907, because that's quicker." Every time I tried to do that, or done it in the past, hopefully I've only done it twice, is that I need to go back and make sure that what I'm writing, what I'm submitting, is the actual information and not changing it, rearranging it, making it look good, whatever. I think for me, it's getting it right.
Even if it doesn't look perfect.
Sharon Staples 33:36
Even if there are gaps.
Yep. And when you do that exploration, you get to know that person a little more. And get to know a little bit about their life history. And that's heart-turning.
Sharon, thank you so much for coming to our tea party.
Sharon Staples 33:52
Thank you for inviting me. It's wonderful. And I love chamomile tea.
Oh yes, with honey.
I love that we've made a new friend and we both would love to have a grandma to gossip with because we don't have any living grandmas anymore. So thank you for being here for us.
Sharon Staples 34:09
Thank you for joining us for this episode of Love Your Lineage. You can find all the references and full transcripts for this episode in our show notes at ldsliving.com/loveyourlineage. And if you love this episode, please please please leave us a review or rating.
This episode was hosted by me, Miya, and the lovely Michelle. It was produced and edited by Erica Free and Katie Lambert and mixed by Mix at 6 Studios. Thank you for being with us today, and we hope you feel empowered to love your lineage and to embrace your authentic family history story.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai