Genealogy is exciting, despite the skeletons in the closet one may find. There’s no feeling like solving that family mystery, breaking down that brick wall, or just learning more about one’s family and heritage.
However, not everything we find is good. Of course, this depends on your moral, political and social views. In my own case, I don’t take these things personally and have no problem sharing information but there are those family members who may see things differently. For these family members, I will only provide the ‘gist’ of a couple of surprising discoveries as examples.
A close female ancestor, born in the opening decade of the 1900′s, was adopted and her biological origins had always been a mystery. In researching her adoptive family, I discovered that hers was not the only instance of adoption in the adoptive family. An earlier ancestor was the son of a civil war soldier who died in a confederate prison and he and his sister were adopted by another family, most likely because his widowed mother couldn’t care for the two youngest children.
I possessed copies of handwritten notes and letters by this more recent adopted ancestor stating the names of her biological mother and father as told to her by family members in the 1950′s. Using Ancestry.com, I was able to locate records for both of these families. The biological mother originated from a german immigrant family. The biological father’s story was quite shady and open to question. At the time of the birth and adoption, the mother was single living in Chicago, Illinois. The father was a soldier showing to be living in Chicago as well at that time.
Using this information, I obtained his military records and was quite shocked at what I found. Not only was he frequently treated for symptoms of gonorrhea, he had been dishonorably discharged from the military at about the same time. What was the reason for this discharge? Could it have been for something as serious as rape? Was he perhaps AWOL? There is no mention of a reason in the documents I obtained. However, in the next census he appears as an inmate in the Ohio State Penitentiary and was a prisoner there at the time of the fire that destroyed the prison. His name is among the survivors of the fire.
In another case, I offered to research a ‘mystery ancestor’ for a relative by marriage who had always wondered about the relationship. This relative had always been referred to as her aunt, but there was never any clarification of the relationship. So, I again went onto Ancestry.com and backtracked from her parents. I knew this aunt’s first name and using that I was able to locate her in a census. I also located a birth certificate at familyrelatives.com that showed her as the birth mother – not the aunt. At the time of the birth, she worked as a servant for a prominent, wealthy family in Wiltshire, England and became pregnant. Considering the two male children of the employer were too young, it is most likely the business owner and head of the household was the father. The baby was raised by the birth mother’s sister and the birth mother thereafter was known as the aunt.
Through further research, I was able to locate pictures of the grandson and great grandson of the employer from his marriage. Although paternity in this case is not proven, there is indeed a familial resemblance between them and my friend.
Due to the sensitive nature of this information, I am not comfortable using names and/or further details as I cannot speak to how the families involved do or would feel, but these are great examples of the upheaval and discomfort some discoveries can cause.