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Psychogénéalogie and French Family Photos


Young Family Group


The popularity of genealogy in France continues to grow and, along with it, the rather new field of transgenerational psychotherapy or psychogénéalogie. A fairly well-known name among the practitioners is that of Christine Ulivucci, who has recently published a book entitled "Ces Photos Qui Nous Parlent : une Relecture de la Mémoire Familiale" ("Photos That Speak to Us : a Rereading of Family Memory" - click on the cover image in the column to the right to buy). She describes the book in an interview:



During the interview, a short film is shown of an example. Aurélie, aged thirty-seven, wanted to know if there may not have been some transgenerational reason as to why she had not yet found matrimonial bliss. A study of a few family photos revealed bad marriages on both the paternal and maternal side. No further along the road to marriage, Aurélie at least had found an explanation as to why.

Dear Readers, beware of adding this type of analysis of minimal amounts of data to your family histories! Were this sort of conclusion to be subjected to the Genealogical Proof Standard, it would fall far short of the rigorous research and standards required. Photography long ago was expensive and used only for the most formal occasions. Later, only the rich could afford to take snapshots at every family event. Now, of course, everyone's computer and phone is flooded with digital images. Analyzing a family using hundreds of photos today might be possible, but we question very severely the validity of conclusions based on five or six formal, posed photos from a hundred years ago.

Had Aurélie wished to use that conclusion as a part of her family's genealogy, she would have  had to confirm the assumption of those bad marriages with further documentation. Barring the convenient discovery of a photo showing one spouse in the process of strangling the other, she would have had to find some sort of documentation, such as:

  • a string of births of children mothered or fathered by someone outside the marriage
  • a will detailing with vitriol why the spouse would inherit the minimum allowed by law
  • documented proof of crimes by one spouse against the other
  • etc.

We jest in part but the point is no joke: in genealogy, assumptions based on limited and/or vague sources are unacceptable. This is not only because it would be sloppy work but because the bad results would be interminable: one weak assumption would lead to another and another, unendingly. We all know how easily it happens: a guess that a marriage was bad becomes and assumption, the a certainty. It then is perpetuated in print and on the Internet and further conclusions about people, based on that "certainly bad" marriage appear, until there is an entire family history that is pure fiction.

We wish Aurélie no harm, nor do we wish to disparage Madame Ulivucci's work, which surely has its value when used correctly, but we do wish to warn against the invention of a life's "truths" based on limited sources.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy