April Fool Meltdown Thanks to William Sterling Estes – 52 Ancestors #154

You tell me, is this a good day or a bad day, genealogically speaking?

  • You discover that your father was married under an alias. Ugh, not probably good.
  • You discover the alias that your father was married under. That’s good, sort of.
  • …in a newspaper article about him going to jail. That’s bad.
  • Where his wife testified. Uh oh.
  • Before she divorced him. Ough.
  • Oh, that’s going to jail…again…according to the article. That’s really bad.
  • You discover that your father had yet another, earlier, alias too. Getting even worse.
  • And another, very young, wife. Holy chimloda.
  • Who he married when she was 15 and lied about her age. Not looking good.
  • Before he was arrested the day they married for having intimate relations with her a few days before they were married, according to her mother.
  • Who testified to send him to jail. Marriage didn’t save him. I don’t think his new mother-in-law liked him, at all.
  • A few months later, the young wife divorced him, for cruelty, while he was in prison…asking for her maiden name back…in 1939. Did they even do that in 1939?
  • You discover his prison number…#24884.
  • And cry, for all kinds of reasons.

Who says that ancestors cannot reach from beyond the grave to play April Fools jokes on you?

  • Oh yes, and did I mention I apparently have a half-sister too?
  • Who’s deceased…
  • Whose mother is neither wife above and appears to have been married to someone else when the half-sister (if she actually is my half-sister) was conceived. And yes, she still has two living children who would be candidates to DNA test. No, I have not attempted to contact them.  What exactly do I say, all things considered?
  • At the time my half-sister was conceived, my father was married to the first wife mentioned above. Maybe that’s part of why she testified against him in court???

If you’re saying Holy Smokes about now…uh, me too.

I swear, my family has given me a working example of every possible situation.  Maybe that’s the silver lining. It was already difficult enough to discover that my brother wasn’t my brother. Now this.

Um, I think my father might have been a scoundrel.

I have only one thing to say to my father as I try desperately to unravel and wrap my head around this.

NOT ONE DAMNED BIT FUNNY!!!

It’s OK if you’re laughing. I will be too, eventually, as soon as I get over the shock. But talk about rocking the world as you think you knew it. You know, it might have been easier to simply discover he wasn’t my father. But he is my father, warts and all.

My mantra has always been to “not judge” the ancestors, because you can’t walk a mile in their shoes and you don’t live in the timeframe and society they did.  But I never thought of my father as an “ancestor” in that sense and this would be a lot easier had I not known him.  He died when I was 7 and it’s easy to idolize someone who is gone. I never saw his warts up close and personal, only through others and painful revelations like this.

But look at it this way…you’ll eventually get one heck of an article out of this one. I believe in the truth and it wouldn’t be fair not to share this part of the journey with you too. And I must admit, it IS very interesting!

I’m considering titles for the new article(s):

  • Veritas (hat tip to Rosario)
  • Uncomfortable Truths (hat tip to Shannon)
  • Be Careful What You Ask For (hat tip to my husband who is even more confused than I am, even after the full explanation)
  • Rock My World
  • An Inconvenient Truth (hat tip to Janet)

Other suggestions? What do you think?

It’s certainly an April Fool’s Day I’ll never forget. I would have been happy solving a brick wall, you know, 200 years ago or so. Scoundrels are fun when you didn’t know them personally and you didn’t inherit half of their DNA.

65 thoughts on “April Fool Meltdown Thanks to William Sterling Estes – 52 Ancestors #154

  1. THAT’S the most convoluted story, April Fool’s or Not, that I have ever heard of!! Does this mean you are going to have a lot of new cousins? Georgeann

      • I do have one ancestor that was married to Frank P Moody in Hopkins County Texas in the 1870s. Five years after they married, she filed for divorce, and asked that her previous surname be give back to her. In other words she asked for the last name of her first husband, Elbert Kenney, and not her maiden name of Bowen. Her chldren by Moody went by Kenney all their lives.

  2. I’m in a quandary – real or fool news? Probably real because it’s too personal to be fool. This is my Forrest Gump Principle of genealogy – “You never know what you’re going to find.”

  3. So sorry, Roberta! I can relate. Maybe the good news is that you inherited the part that was not scoundrel, the part that wanted to solve problems instead of create them.

  4. Ye Gods, that’s hard…. This kind of thing is *interesting* if it is 100 years back. But this was – yes, father, but more so, your little-kid Daddy….
    If it were me, once I got over the shock (probably with an assist from too much wine), I would really want to find out what happened in his life that made him do this sort of thing.
    This is more than genetic. And you didn’t get it.
    There’s a back story when he was young….
    You may not find it, of course. But you might be able to find situations or implications that would help explain it.

  5. Sorry for your painful discovery, Roberta! I feel for you. Try to see the good that comes from the bad, though. I have a feeling you might have more close relations yet to discover.

  6. Roberta—we all have them the scoundrels and having lived through my own nightmare my heart goes out to you. Well at least you’ll get one heck of a story out of him.

  7. I can empathize. Bad news, my father had another family before me (found out when my parents divorced after 30 yrs). Good news, my newly discovered half brother has become my genealogy buddy and we have solved many questions we both had about our shared father’s family.
    Love the good memories you have. It is the best way to come to terms with the part we can’t understand. Hugs!
    Nancy Thomas

  8. I want to share this comment that was e-mailed to me. I don’t know if it’s true, but it surely made me feel better. (copy/paste below)

    You know, just as a true outsider knowing only what you’ve made public, I think your Dad was a true romantic. I probably would have liked him a lot!

    His story is tragic and sad, but really, it’s also full of love. It also sounds like he passed his good genes down to you. 🙂

  9. When I gave a talk on genealogy last month at our local library, I warned the audience to be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly when doing genealogy. Your story validates that!

    Thank you for sharing your family stories with us.

  10. Well first be thankful that it was your father, not your husband! Easier to handle when it’s not something you actually participated in. My Dad was a cheater too. I found out when I was about 30 that I have a 1/2 sister. Her Mom and Dad(?) were neighbors and best friends with my parents. She is within a year of the same age as me but I don’t know if it’s older or younger. My sister had the name of her mother and older brother , found the birth certificate and was going to look for her. But didn’t find her. Then she found out from My mother that this poor little girl ‘s mother committed suicide a few years later and the Dad had help from a Grandmother with the kids. No more info and so She stopped looking. End of line. My Mother told me that my Daddy looked for her through out the year always hoped to find her. I’ve always felt sad for her because OUR Daddy was a Grade A #1 father and she would have known she was special just because she was his daughter.

  11. Doing genealogy has been fun, frustrating and fascinating. I found a “cousin” whose father was one of my dad’s brother’s. Her story was similar to yours just not the jail part that we know of. Whatever your dad was should not affect the love you feel and felt for him. It’s hard to believe our parents are humans too and commit errors in life just like we have and do. Life isn’t meant to be boring, you just have a little more spice!! Keep up your fascinating work. Brenda

  12. Actor Samuel Jackson’s father was not a part of his childhood, nor was mine. Samuel had the opportunity to have an encounter with his father when he was an adult, I did not. When I read stories like Roberta’s or Samuel’s, this is the cliche that always comes to mine;
    “Any fool can make a baby. it takes a real man to stay and raise a child.”
    On a lighter note; You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your father.”

    • I totally agree with Bob. My grandmother was an alley cat. Between she and her second husband they left litters of children here and there. I had the pleasure of “meeting” yet another cousin this week. It takes awhile to get over the shock and the hurt, but the good stuff that keeps coming is so much fun.

  13. My friend found out her grandfather was a convicted murderer. That was not the family story!!! I have not had DNA testing yet because I am afraid of 1/2 siblings. And 1/2 aunts and uncles. I am not sure I am ready to deal with all that. I might leave it for the next generation.

  14. Well, it certainly puts on a great case for free will. You may have ingerite half of his dna but you were the one who decided how to use it. You have helped me so much to understand the dna of today and who know how many others. So your father can be remembered as one of the good guys in your life. Just forget the rest.

  15. There is not one family I know that does not have at least one family member or close relative who is some kind of a problem. Remember that, and keep a stiff upper lip, as the British say. It take courage to write about this.

  16. I found a DNA cousin who was the grandson of my great grandfather’s illegitimate daughter. Her mother was the second cousin of his wife and great grandpa went to prison for rape when they were caught. I got to apologize for my great grandfather’s wild oats and welcome a new member of my family. It always does my heart good to know that my ancestors made worse mistakes than I did! Thanks for sharing, Roberta!

  17. I am speechless. I can not even fathom what you are feeling. That’s a lot to wrap your head around! One things for sure in all my years of research…I’ve learned those names are real people. They had bad habits, sins, some ugly personalities, racists, outlaws, liars, thieves, abusers, scoundrels, adulterers, etc. I learned they are human. For me it was humbling. I learned to just love them because they trekked the path before me as they made mistakes they also made great strides to navigate my family lines to where I am at this place and time. They made it so I have freedom, deep faith in God, and a general love for them regardless of their faults. 🙂 I have a few stories that are similar that happened 1-2 generations before me. On my maternal side my great grandfather had a story…as I was told my great grandmother threw him out of the house when my grandfather was about 2 years old. My grandfather searched his whole life for his father and came up empty handed. His sad story…I say sad because regardless of who that man was my grandfather ached to know and died without knowing him. Years after his death I had pondered taking a DNA test because what harm would it do, right?!? I took the DNA test and I found out his father had 2 wives…WITH THE SAME FIRST NAME! (what a skeeze right)…maybe great grandma found out? Who knows…I’m still mad as heck that she was selfish and took that info to her grave, but I regress…that’s more for a therapy session after I am dead. HA! SO I took the DNA test and found that out and BAM….a lady messages me (off of my father’s line)…she apparently was a lineal result of my great grand father “getting busy” with his daughters best friend…I am going to guess that it was not consensual, but that’s just my opinion. Soooo I have to tell my dad that he has a cousin out there he did not know about and that his grand father was skeezy. How does one go about doing that!?!?!?!? Well I broke the news to him gently and explained about the DNA test and matching a lady and explaining her story to him. At first he was a little defensive and then he opened up about how things made sense and he admitted other things about his grand father. So the moral of all of this…YAY DNA! Never forget secrets always come out in the end and if I could I would give you a huge hug.

    • Sorry that was so long. I forgot to add my poor grandpa…his family had more skeletons than I could imagine. His sister was a madam married at least 15 times…she went to prison for killing one of her husbands…I suspect a domestic violence situation. His other sister disappeared and there was some wild story that her husband killed her because no one could just abandon their 2 daughters, right!? Umm nope she left her family and remarried not long after that. I found her story also through DNA. Isn’t it wonderful!?!!? 🙂

      • On a more serious note…Who knows…she did “service” military men. I guess that was her way of supporting the war effort. ha! As I got a whole pile of photos passed down (when she died) from her to my grandfather to finding their way to me. I am surprised that she only had 1 child (but would not be surprised to find out she had others), who surprisingly was legitimate (from her 1st marriage at 14/15 yrs old) and before she became a prostitute. I have suspicion that she ended up in the profession because she was a very very young divorcee and single mom with no education and no skills…well I guess she had some skills as she was said to be pretty well off in her profession as a madam. ha! It’ll take time, but you got to laugh it off and new relatives can be fun. 🙂 Speaking of that we should figure out exactly what # cousin we are to each other. You know I found you and this by googling Stutzman. 🙂 That’s my direct paternal line.

      • No, I didn’t know how you found me. I will say that I feel badly for your grandmother because she probably had little choice and if you’re going to be bad, then at least be good at being bad:)

        Does our DNA match? Do you have Brethren heritage? Let’s figure this out. Are you in the Stutzman project at Family Tree DNA.

      • It was my great aunt. 🙂 Her mother, my great grandmother, she was also a mess. That’s a whole other story. I’m not sure if our DNA matches. I’m making a hypothesis that we probably share a little. 😛 I’d like to find out! I do have Brethren heritage. I looked and it says I joined the project, but as far as sharing anything on there I am not sure that I ever did. I do have Ancestry DNA, family tree DNA, and I have a GED match #.

  18. Met my Dad’s 94 year old cousin a few weeks ago. Her father was my Grandfather’s older brother. Never knew they existed because my Dad shared nothing of his family. She was actually seeking information from me because her father was the “adopted” older brother. Her theory is: We know he was abandoned on your Great Grandparent’s doorstep by the neighbors and they adopted him. We feel your Great Grandfather is the biological father.” Yikers… welcome to the family, I think! We have since had her younger brother’s DNA done and are waiting to compare it to my younger brother’s. My GreatGrandparents stepped up and raised a nice man and I never knew her, but I have a lot of admiration for a loving, compassionate GGMother. For sure! I think it was harder for her, but I immediately loved this new cousin. Within a few minutes, we weren’t strangers and as long as we both are alive, we are going to stay close. She’s like having a part of my Dad alive again. She knows more about his side of the family than I do. I feel lucky to find new family.

  19. Yep, there’s a scoundrel in everyone’s family. There’s usually a fool in every family, too. Sometimes they intersect or interact. But everyone, living or dead, continues to influence who we are.

    It’s been said that “all men are brothers” (women, too, are included). That statement depends upon how brotherhood is defined. Time and distance are important, and they apply to us, whether we realize it or not..

    We’re all related, distantly, or not so distantly, as we are all human. The trick is in proving HOW.we are related to each other – that endeavor is called genealogy. And then there is the situation of how we now relate to each other. That’s one of … (fill in the blank) 😉

  20. I kept waiting for the “April Fool’s!” part. That’s tough. I almost didn’t pursue genealogy when I was young, because I knew both my grandfathers were scoundrels of the drinking, womanizing sort. In fact, I never saw a photo of one of them until a third cousin I only knew from the internet sent one to me. Her mother had good memories of Grandpa Scoundrel’s parents, and that was really good to know. I also got to know his second wife, and several of my half-uncles and aunts and they are such good people. I’m glad you loved your father; I’m sure he loved you. Hugs.

    • Maybe they were fools. But you are no fool..You learned from their mistakes, and learned not to repeat their mistakes.

      That shows progress in many ways: individual, familial and generational. Some things in life are invaluable.

      No foolin’. 🙂

  21. The power of the story you told is that you shared it. Not everyone has the strength to tell the real truth!

  22. Your father must have been charming and handsome, there is always good in everything and you are the good. At least you got to meet him many people are looking for fathers they will never find, at least you had a chance to spend some time with him. Plenty like him around I call them married bachelors. Chin up keep smiling you have much to be thankful for.

  23. Dear Roberta,

    Thanks so much for sharing your heart rending story…what incredibly powerful & painful revelations to now have to wrestle with. We live in such a fallen, broken world, and even those we love can let us down in unimaginably cruel ways. One way I’ve come to grips with some of the pain of the past is to think of our life experiences (and the choices of our forbears, to some degree) as threads woven together into a tapestry. In this life we only ever seem to view the backside (no pun intended!) of the artist’s creation. However, the God’s-eye view/heavenly perspective is always of the other side…a completed master work of art! Those painful experiences, from our view seem as random, inappropriate threads that would surely ruin the tapestry’s beauty…but God Himself, the Master Weaver, takes what the Enemy meant for evil, and brings out profound good for those of us that love Him!

    Regardless of your father’s seeming failures one thing he surely got right…he helped to bring about your existence in this world!!! Certainly your life and the beauty, joy, and inspiration you bring to others are more than enough justification for his complicated existence….Please take your time to “process” these new revelations and when you are ready plow ahead into this new as yet unexplored territory…covering your journeys with prayer, peace, and grace.

    Blessings,

    Valerie Curren

  24. Another thought.
    Recently I found a document that a man on my father’s side, with his surname, sent his son as an apprentice to learn carpentry / joiner work with his neighbor, John Estes, in the 1700’s, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. I do not know my exact relationship to the apprentice as records were lost, but he was a close relative.. My father was a carpenter and his father was a contractor and carpenter. There were others who followed that trade, including as mine carpenters.
    .
    Then I read your April Fool Meltdown blog, and it made me wonder.. My father’s paternal grandfather was not a nice man, so we have been told. His wife left him, and no one blamed her. Earlier, this man’s grandfather had odd court cases in early White County, Tennessee, leaving descendants to ask each other if we have to claim him? I guess we do. This is my direct paternal line. Am I possibly related to Estes as well as Dodson?

    Years ago when I was in college I took many psychology classes (and early programming on main-frame computers) where I was taught our lives, our environment, and our genetics blend together to form us, not just physically, but mentally as well. So, finding unacceptable behavior in our family and ancestors is upsetting. The bad apple does not fall far from the tree, is an old saying. We ask ourselves if we inherit this tendency toward unacceptable behavior, and do not want to look at it. This is why I said, you, Roberta, have a lot of courage to write about it. I think this is great, because we do need to look at it in our genealogy, and in ourselves and family.

    There is one more part to this story. My grandfather was raised by his not nice father. Early in his life he decided to not ever act like his father, and he never did all his life. He was well liked, and peaceful. He never spanked his children, which was unusual, but his big family all grew up to be good people. By his choice maybe he changed my family history. His life showed me that this is possible, at least in some cases. There is much here to think about.

  25. *hugs*
    Have a hot bath with alcohol and sweets on the side. And binge watch your favorite series.

    And if worst come to worst, buy Häagen-Dazs ice cream, regardless of the consequences.

  26. Hmmmm…. Well, I already wrote one about my great-grandfather entitled “Charles TROUTMAN. I Must Be Careful What I Ask For,” so you may want to go a different route there, although I have no trademark on the title (nor on paternal polygamy, secrets, and scoundrelness). You’re welcome to it.

    My polygamist 2nd great-grandfather, John Marion Renfro: I snagged a title of one of my two articles from a line out of a newspaper article title describing his goings-on: “The Much Married Renfro.” Defined him to a T. You could do something like that. 🙂

    There’s also a nice store about how my grandfather got into the 1940 census twice, having been arrested on a hit and run that very census day: “Earl Lawrence TRAUTMAN (1893-1964) : “Auto Salesman Arraigned in Hit and Run” or How my Grandfather Got into the 1940 Census Twice.” Completely unrelated, except he was also a bit of an alcoholic scoundrel, and this happened on April 1st.

    Looking forward to the article and your peace of mind that will come, as did mine, in time. Hugs. ❤

  27. Roberta, I agree completely about withholding judgement about the lives of our ancestors.
    Sometimes it is very hard to suspend judgement when it comes to the lives of dependent children.
    I have a “hair pulling” puzzle for which I have a question. The question being, how much African ancestry should show up in a DNA test? Here goes the puzzle. It appears that my great great grandmother, Margaret Jeffers emanated from a cabbage patch. She reports to have come to Iowa in 1853 and then marries at age 16 (we think) in Lucas County Iowa in 1855. There is a family story that she came to the states from England with an aunt and then to Virginia and then to Iowa with the same aunt. That however does not match her census claims to have been born in Virginia and also both of her parents being born in Virginia. Further, the idea of two women alone
    making those journeys is quite a stretch. In Lucas County iowa there were only
    two Jeffers families. One family consisted of two brothers who came to Iowa in 1850 and they were from Ohio. There appears to be little to establish any link with this family. As I was hot on the heels of the other family, I was quite surprised to find them listed as Mulatto. They had migrated from Virginia and were successful farmers in Lucas County. I double checked my sister’s and my Ancestry DNA results and there was no mention of African ancestry. The issue
    laid dormant until recently when I was once again going over the family tin types that I had
    inherited from my uncle. Among the tin types was a picture taken at the second wedding of
    my great aunt, eldest daughter of Margaret Jeffers Gray. The picture is of Katherine Gray
    Boylan Forbes (age 25) her 4 year old son Floyd,Boylan, and a gorgeous young girl who appears to be a bit younger than Floyd. She however is much darker than Floyd. She has long curly dark hair and big brown eyes and skin the color of Vanessa Williams. We have no idea who she might be, but why is she at the wedding and then why is she part of the photograph? So, if
    Margaret Jeffers was hiding her African ancestry, how much African ancestry should show up
    within an Ancestry DNA test? If she was 1/8 African that would make me 1/128 African. Perhaps that is not enough for Ancestry to catch?

  28. Roberta, I have you say you have the most amazing family tree! Most of us could only dream of having one so colourful! Think of the potential!!

  29. What a story, Roberta! Two titles for an article came to mind –
    “My Father was an Explorer!”
    “The Remains of an Ancestor”

    Can’t wait for this one, good luck, Roberta!

  30. Roberta,

    My father had 10 full brothers and sisters, and an older half brother. Wait, he also had a younger half brother. Oh, and maybe another younger half brother.

    The older half brother was always known, since my grandmother had him when she was just 17-18, and my grandfather really was the only father he ever knew. He was only about a year old when my grandparents married. My father was the first child born to both of my grandparents, so he and his older half brother were grew up together. (The older brother was the best man at my parents’ wedding.)

    The younger half brothers are a different story. Apparently my grandfather had a long-term girlfriend with whom he had at least two children. I remember one of them, since we were in the same school together. This half uncle of mine is probably about two years younger than I am — and around 26 years younger than my father.

    Here’s the really strange part, though. My father ended up teaching math at the high school he graduated from, and I had him in both 7th and 8th grade. He also taught his youngest full brother, who was just a year ahead of me. Both of us, of course, he knew about at the time.

    But the year after he was my 8th grade math teacher, he became his (1st? 2nd?) half brother’s 7th grade math teacher. I don’t know if he found out that year or shortly thereafter.

    I used to think it was funny to have an uncle only a year and I half older than I am — he married one of my high school classmates, by the way — and who is younger than my older brothers. Somehow it wasn’t as amusing when I discovered I also have two younger half uncles.

    But I suspect the ones who got the worst of it were my younger uncles, whose DAD always belonged to a different family.

      • Well, you also know the saga of my search for my maternal grandfather’s biological parents.

        As a result of the shadow tree I created, I ended up in something six DNA Circles on my maternal grandfather’s side. One of them involves a man who reportedly had 20 children, by four different women. Two of the women were sisters.

        There really isn’t much more I can say. :-0

  31. I guess I’d better add that the two sisters were not HIS sisters, at least. I mean sisters to each other.

  32. Pingback: Unwelcome Discoveries and Light at the End of the Tunnel, 52 Ancestors #156 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  33. Earlier, I read your long article about all the unsavory details you found and felt sad for you and everyone who finds these kind of relationships in their family. However, the version of the story above is not as dark, as it’s always best to find the humor in any situation. I found at least one GG grandfather who died in a town in Virginia known for two things: the state mental hospital for a portion of the state, and one of the oldest colleges/universities in America. However, he only appeared there late in life, and no family with him because he was a “patient” at the mental hospital! I also found a Great Great Grandfather from a “prominent” family who apparently deserted his wife and children, didn’t pay his bills, and caused his well-to-do siblings and cousins great pain and embarrassment. I found last record of him in a rooming house in Missouri, right before the Civil War, and never could find a death record for him. His own grandfather was a hero in the American Revolution, but . . .All of us have embarrassing relatives in our family tree. And each of us should strive to not be one of those for future generations! If one does not wish to encounter the truth about those people, then one might miss out on some great and interesting information. You are very brave!

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