Sometimes people are worried they may find a ‘black sheep’, ‘a skeleton in the closet’ or some other shocking or upsetting information about an ancestor. This is sometimes referred to as finding the ‘dark side’ or ‘sinister side’ of the family tree.
A few of such shocking news can be that your ancestors owned slaves, killed a person, was married more than four times, had an illegitimate baby, served time in prison, was a traitor, or abandoned their family. Finding such events can actually spark intense curiosity to know the whole story.
Sometimes it is helpful to understand cultural norms to better understand what happened. If you found that a female ancestor spent time in a lunatic asylum, you really do need to know what time period and the social norms of the day. In the late 1800s, many women were ‘put away’ by their husbands as a way to be rid of a wife. She could have physical health problems and since medicine was not very advanced in the 1800s, many women were sent away.
There were the prisons in England in the 1700s for those who were in debt – ‘debtor’s prison’. They didn’t rob or steal, they just couldn’t pay all their bills, so into prison they went. Many of those individuals were sent to the territory of Australia, taken from their homeland to a strange land for the rest of their life.
Or those women killed because some people thought they were ‘witches’ in Salem, Colony of Massachusetts in the 1600s. Only later, after their deaths, was the truth learned.
Don’t be afraid to uncover these previously untold stories and the people involved. Investigate the best you can using newspapers, journals, funeral home information, death certificates, etc. Their memory should be recognized and saved just like any other ancestor. Even the most savage convicted killed, was once a small boy, loved by his mother, had siblings and somewhere things went terribly wrong.
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