In the face of scandalous findings

Maybe you’re one of the genealogists who aspires to connect your roots to royalty, wealth, or some other, well, glamorous or historic past. That was certainly my mother’s ideal, if she had ever undertaken the research. (Having done a bit there, I can reply she wouldn’t have liked most of the findings.) My Quaker connection, via my dad’s side, which prompted my genealogy efforts has become, well, much more humbling than I’d envisioned at the outset. You can forget the smiling oatmeal-box portrait. Scroll through this site for the real photos, if you wish.

At some point, though, you’re likely to come across a scandalous discovery, and that can be troubling. One friend told of the way her Italian family’s quest came to a halt when they learned they’d been Jewish five generations back rather than proudly, even prominently, Roman Catholic. Others have mentioned the ancestor hanged as a horse thief or, as one found, banished from several New England towns as, uh, having a sexual appetite that ran in all directions.

You can stop there.

Or you can choose to push through the bad news, which I feel gives us a much richer and more honest history – more appealing and dramatic in its own way.

Coming across transcripts of bastardy court records in the Guilford County Historical Society’s periodical untangled one of the knots in my ancestry, as I report in one of the postings here. So there was illegitimacy even within the Quaker culture? We’ve survived, and the sexuality of Southern folkways is part of a larger story that needs understanding. There are several other knots in my lineage where I suspect it will play out. We’ll see.


Are there points of inquiry you’ve put aside for similar reasons? Are there others that gave depth to your understanding? What’s scandalized you as you’ve pursued lines from generation to generation? Have any of your ancestors been charged or convicted of crime or taken flight to evade prosecution? Where does divorce fit into your perspective? What about questions of confidentiality, no matter how long ago they arise? Any other situations we need to consider?


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