Check Out Our Genealogy Blog »

Taboo -- What to Do With Family Secrets?

secret-tellingOh, it will happen … you’ll come across some information on an ancestor that might be seen as scandalous. Of course in today’s standards versus decades ago, the news may not be that disgraceful.

You want to backup with facts or proof anything you do find, never accept the first thing you find is correct. Once you do have all the proof do make note of it in your files on that specific family or individual.

Next, do you let others in the family know about this family secret? The key is who is involved. If it is a living person — no way, without maybe talking to them first. They may be fine with the rest of the family now knowing or are totally against it for any number of reasons.

secret-shhIf the person involved is no longer living, then you do need to check with a direct close relative. If the scandal was concerning the mother of a living relative, then check with that adult child. In each case respect the relative’s wishes.

However, if such family secrets remain hidden, a good portion of family history will never get fully revealed. This will create a large gap in truly understanding whom our ancestors were, and why certain actions were done during their life. When a secret is discovered, no matter when it happened, the family researcher really needs to learn the circumstances and reason why a specific event occurred and how the ancestor endured. Once it comes to light, today we can better understand why people years ago did certain things and kept it quiet.

secret--willSources for uncovering some family scandals can include old family letters, journals, Wills, deeds, photos, scrapbooks or vital records. Also great to use are newspaper articles from the local hometowns. One I uncovered was on my 2nd great granduncle. In the Wed., May 31, 1905, York County Newspaper-Sentinel and Hanover Herald, Sat., May 27, 1905, it had that on May 4, 1905, Henry Jackson Sherman was penniless, broken man. He was discovered tampering with the safe in the office of Bowman & Huff Cigar Factory on York Street of Hanover, PA. Henry escaped from the store. He was arrested by Officer Dutters. He was put in the York County jail on May 6th. While in jail, his last words on Tuesday, May 23 at 4 PM were, “Here’s where I get some of that good bread, the kind that mother used to bake.” He died of a heart attack while in the York County Jail. The coroner David H. Smyser pronounced him dead. Further research did show Sherman, the only son, had inherited the family farm in Manheim,York County, about 200 acres and large house and owned it between 1864 and 1880. He lost it with reckless spending. The family inherited farm and money ($50,000) all lost by ill-starred speculations, rash business ventures and reckless spending. At one time he had the habit of lighting his cigar with a ten or twenty dollar bill. The property was seized by the county sheriff and sold, leaving him a broken man. Those events must have been quite embarrassing to the other family members, including my 2nd great grandmother, sister to Henry Jackson Sherman.

Finding this information and proving it with additional details better helped to understand why the long-time family property did not stay with the family.

So take on those family secrets and gather the real events

Related genealogical blogs:

Discovering Family Secrets

The Sinister Family Side

How to Know What Not to Share


< Return To Blog