13 December 2011


     Not finding an ancestor's records? There are many reasons why a life event might not be recorded, and these reasons might have been "hushed up" by the family. Your ancestors were human, and they might have done scandalous, illegal, or immoral things in their lives. If there is a problem with addiction or mental illness among their living descendants, you should consider the possibility that your ancestors coped with these problems in their lives, also. Don't forget that many illnesses and behaviors that carried a stigma or were illegal in past times may not be considered as scandalous today.
     I have met researchers who become upset or embarrassed when I have raised the possibility of an out of wedlock birth in their tree or an ancestor who abandoned the family. These emotional reactions can create brick walls in our research. Don't allow your sensibilities to cloud your research!

  •       Birth out of wedlock/kidnapping/abandonment. Consider these possibilities if name and age discrepancies occur in a family and cannot be easily explained. 
   I've seen family trees where a "sister" was in fact a child of a sibling, and the "mother" a grandmother or aunt.
     I have heard of two instances in which a child was kidnapped by another relative or family friend when the child's mother died in childbirth (yes, kidnapped--taken right out of the cradle without the father's permission or knowledge!).
     I have researched a case in which some but not all of the children were placed in an orphanage by parents who were struggling financially.
     I have encountered a case in which the researcher assumed that a young woman and small child with the same surname as the household was a daughter in law. However, the young woman turned out to be a daughter who was a single mother and gave her child the family surname instead of that of the birth father.
  • Suicide. In the past in some churches, a victim of suicide could not be buried in church yard or consecrated grounds. In those cases, no record was kept by the church of the burial or death.
  • Bigamy. I have seen family trees containing men with two simultaneous families (and they were not early Mormons, either).
  • Desertion. I have had quite a few researchers tell me about their ancestor who was hard to find because the ancestor deserted the family.
  • Criminal/victim. I have spoken to researchers whose ancestors were murderers, and others whose ancestors were victims of murder. Usually, a researcher is "lucky" in both cases, because there are news reports and coroners' inquests that leave a paper trail. However, the families often covered up the story.
  •  Illness. Both mental and physical illnesses or conditions were often covered up by families.
  •  Name changes/ Family strife. Even today, I know individuals who have changed their names after an estrangement with their family or other life circumstance (such as a religious conversion). Many of us have encountered name changes in our family tree. There is often a story underlying the name change. The change was not always made by some "Ellis Island official," as the popular myth goes. On the contrary, I've read that the immigration officials were rather careful about the immigrants' names. Most name changes were done by immigrants after they settled in their new land--and often families were divided on the change.
     These hushed-up stories are often the mortar in our genealogical brick walls. If an ancestor seems to be a mystery, perhaps he or she was, in fact, involved in one!