This week\’s post is not about record sources. It\’s more of an opinion piece. It\’s been one I\’ve been wanting to write about for awhile.
A few days ago, a genealogy friend and I were discussing the \”less than upstanding citizens\” in our respective trees. Actually, the conversation was less about the ancestors themselves, and more about our living relatives reactions to our ancestors\’ misdeeds. It got me to thinking back about some of the episodes of those genealogy shows, when someone is absolutely horrified by some of the things their ancestors have done. They immediately classify them as an evil person. I can sympathize on one level Sometimes reality can be a shock. I am also a little… annoyed as well. That\’s not quite the right word, but I\’ll explain.
First and foremost, your ancestor\’s decisions are not a reflection of YOU. Just as you didn\’t actually do the heroic deed they did, you didn\’t perform the \”dastardly\” deed either. We all remember the brouhaha a couple of years ago when a certain celebrity asked one of the genealogy shows to not air the fact that he had a slave owning ancestor. The show went with a different story from the celebrity\’s ancestry. Now whether this was because of the celebrity\’s request, or because they thought that the story they did use was more interesting, I personally do not know. Nor do I want to rehash the incident. I actually thought the one they used was more interesting than if they had gone with the slave owning ancestor, but that\’s just me. Just to be clear, I am NOT condoning slavery. It\’s one of the horrible parts of human history. But to shy away from it and pretend it didn\’t happen doesn\’t do any good either.
If you do genealogy long enough, you are going to come across an ancestor whose life choices don\’t measure up to your own code of ethics. Whether you consider them a \”grey sheep\” or a \”black sheep\” would depend on your viewpoint I guess. Most genealogists are delighted to find one of these people, as it adds a good story to your family history.
Let me give you some examples from my own family history:
- The married guy who had two children with his servant girl, and ended up marrying her after his wife died and then had a couple more with her
- The man who was a confirmed bigamist
- The woman who was a suspected bigamist
- The woman who had 3 illegitimate children and never married
- The woman who was a prostitute for awhile
- I can\’t prove it, but I\’m pretty sure at least one person in my tree might have supplemented their income through less than legal means