Mother used to say that things happen in groups of 3. These past couple weeks have proven her old adage to be true. What an emotional roller-coaster!
Sooner or later, every genealogist meets an ancestor they really don’t like. One whose personal values are diametrically opposed to their own in a way that causes the genealogist some amount of…well…let’s just say consternation. Maybe even soul searching as you struggle to understand. And maybe you can’t understand and you wish the ancestor just wasn’t yours.
I met one of those when I wrote about Thomas Day, the probable wife murderer. When I discovered his murderous history, which looks very much like he beat his wife to death, given that he was found sitting by her dead body, I even checked my pedigree chart to see how far back he fell. The answer is 9 generations, meaning that if I carry any of his DNA at all, today, it would be on average 0.195% of his DNA, less than one fifth of 1%. I felt like I dodged that bullet. Whew!!
It’s interesting to see how people cope with revelations like this. This ancestor is so distant that you can emotionally distance yourself in many ways – by saying he might not be a murderer after all, by compensating for his behavior by making excuses, by minimizing the negative information, by emotionally divorcing yourself from him, or by accepting the evidence, feeling empathy for his spouse and realizing that he, 9 generations ago, really has nothing to do with you today.
But let’s face it. Who wants an icky ancestor?
Each of the ancestors in our tree has bad and good, some more bad than good, and some vice versa. We know so very little about any of our ancestors that we define them by the snippets, good or bad, that we do know. Keep in mind that each of those people did indeed do one thing that was very important to you – and that’s to beget your ancestor who begot another ancestor who a few generations later had one of your parents who had you. You would not exist, as you, without them – regardless of anything else in their life. You are their legacy every bit as much as what they did when they were alive.
We can simply hope we don’t “inherit” the “murderous” proclivity, genes, or whatever brought that person to that place in time in a way that led to that behavior – whether the driving factor was some something social, situational or genetic. We hope that the trait or tendency was not passed to us, today, either through genetics or family dynamics, meaning learned behaviors by example.
Whatever it was, we don’t want it!
Mental Illness – The Untouchable Topic
Of course, there is the possibility that mental illness was involved. Mental illness tends to be the topic that no one, and I mean no one, discusses.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that, in my family line, a descendant of Thomas Day, Joel Vannoy, Thomas Day’s great-great-grandson was in fact committed to the Eastern State Mental Hospital for the insane in Knoxville, Tennessee. Joel was my great-great-grandfather.
The people in Tennessee who told me all kinds of things when I first began visiting and talking about genealogy never revealed that. They talked about wife cheaters and wife beaters and women having children not fathered by their husbands and “carrying on” with the preacher, but no one ever talked about mental illness. That was THE taboo subject.
After I made that discovery, quite by happenstance, in the court records, it turned out that people knew. Then the uncomfortable discussion immediately turned to which side of the family the “crazy came down from.” Everyone was very anxious to distance themselves not from Joel himself, but from the possible spectre of mental illness – and by virtue of the unsaid, that it was or could be found in their line as well.
Joel wasn’t dangerous, just “preachin’, swearin’, and threatenin’ to fight,” according to his hospital paperwork, but his grandson, my grandfather might have been a different matter.
Smoke and Fire
My grandfather, William George Estes, seemed to have a somewhat distant relationship with a moral compass. He not only cheated on my grandmother, Ollie Bolton, but with her own young cousin. After my grandmother divorced him, he married that cousin. They moved to Harlan County, Kentucky where he was a moonshiner and then cheated on her with her cousin. See a pattern here, perhaps? Divorced and married again, he treated that third wife very poorly, according to my mother who visited a grand total of one time. Mother was horrified and did not wish to discuss the situation.
Sometimes oral history is right, and sometimes it’s wrong, but there is often some sort of fire where there is smoke. In the case of William George Estes, there are troubling whispers about the murder of a revenue agent. I have no idea if that story is true, but I do know that one of his children starved to death, according to the death certificate. No one talked about that either. In fact, until I found the death certificate quite by accident, I never knew the child existed. I wanted to believe that the cause of death was wrong, but then I recalled that my father’s sister reported that when they were young, they didn’t have enough food and the children were fed moonshine to keep their hungry stomachs from hurting and so that they would sleep.
Imagine hearing this about your parent and grand-parents. Imagine living like that as a child. Imagine being my father.
Then, add to that the fact that the Aunt, who was somewhat inclined to embellish, said that when your grandparents divorced, when your father was about 12, neither parent wanted your father or his brother who was younger by two years. The boys, desperate, hopped on a freight train with the hobos, finally making their way back to Tennessee, from Indiana, to their grandparents’ home. They arrived very hungry and dirty. I didn’t want to believe that, but after being told the same thing by three different people with personal knowledge, I realized it was true.
Mind you, the mother who didn’t want him is the mother my father cared for, at home, for months, in her final lengthy illness in 1955. He did not betray her as she had betrayed him.
That unwanted 12 year old child turned into a 14 year old who lied about his age to enter the service in World War I. Anything was probably better than trying to scavenge. It’s no wonder he spent the majority of his life, “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” and trying to pretend everything was OK when it wasn’t.
I have never believed, nor do I believe today, that the past is necessarily a predictor or deterministic of the future. I don’t believe that parents’ actions dictate what the child will turn out to be, either bad or good, although they certainly have an influence. The world is full of examples that disprove that logic, in both directions. I fully believe that nurture can either overcome or mediate nature – excepting of course for barriers like Down’s Syndrome that people are born with – and that our own personal decisions are what drives and determines our lives. Of course, sometimes there seems to be no nurture, but still, we have the ability to choose and to change – to create our own destiny.
My father was no angel. He was human. I have no idea how much of his behavior sprung from his early environment, but I know that later he made choices that were not in his own best interest and he paid dearly for them.
The Father I Knew
The father I knew loved me, doted on me in fact, for just short of 8 years. He was killed in an automobile accident in 1963.
He spent quality time with me when I did see him. He made special meals and I got to have special “coffee” with him. Coffee parties instead of tea parties. Of course, “coffee” was really warm milk and sugar with enough coffee to look like today’s latte. He played dolls with me, pulled me in my red wagon and often held me as I slept. I have no bad or negative memories of him.
My parents separated when I was young. While my father was a doting father to me, he was also doting in a different way, it appears, on women other than my mother. A long-time pattern with my father it seems, as with his father.
My “half-brother,” Dave, who also knew my father, remembered him in the same affectionate way.
The father we knew took us fishing and was a man we adored. Our father rescued animals in need, a raccoon whose mother was killed on the road, an orphan duck and a little dog named Timmy. He rescued people too, including two orphan children from the orphanage in Knightstown, Indiana with his last wife, Virgie.
Dave and I who were born when my father was in his 50s have very different memories about my father than my sister, Edna, who was born when my father was in his 20s.
Edna did not know our father as a child and her opinion of him was formed entirely from her mother’s perspective.
My father did find Edna as an adult and tried to establish a relationship, as best you can after a prolonged absence. Pictured above, my father with Edna’s children between about 1958-1960.
I surely don’t blame Edna’s mother for how she felt, as my father was anything but a model husband – at least until his last marriage.
His last wife, Virgie, a lovely woman, knew him, understood him and loved him. In a letter to me after his death, she wrote that no matter what anyone said about him, no one knew what he had survived as a child and that he was not all bad. Perhaps he at last finally found the love he sought so desperately. I hope so. He was killed two years and 3 days after their marriage.
Our identity, in many ways, is tied to our family – to our parents. It’s tied to knowing that our parents are our parents, that our father is our father, that our siblings are indeed our siblings. It’s rooted in what we believe to be true and in good memories that make us feel warm, wanted and loved.
Our identity is uprooted when we discover something that contradicts, challenges or disproves that identify, and to say it’s upsetting is just about as big an understatement as can be made.
It shakes our very worldview, of ourselves and our place in the family. It makes us question if we are somehow less worthy because of circumstances beyond our control. We wonder if we were unwanted, a mistake, or an inconvenience.
We question who we really are. These types of discoveries are life-shaking and life-altering.
I’ve always felt that many times, I’ve been brought to and through something to provide me with perspective so that I can help others. Perhaps that’s one way of making bad things alright – of finding a plateau for acceptance – or maybe it’s just my justification for why bad or painful things happen. The silver living, so to speak. Regardless, it’s a way of helping others through situations that are almost impossible to understand without having walked a mile in those shoes.
Sometimes that mile is awfully long, uphill and freefalling at the same time, and treacherous, let me tell you. The worst roller-coaster ride you’ll ever experience.
Such was the case with the discovery that my brother, Dave, wasn’t really my brother. I then spent months doubting that my father was my father, only to discover that he was my father, and not Dave’s father. It was a miserable few months filled with doubt, dread and anxiety. The end was a mixture of relief for myself and anguish for Dave’s loss – information I never shared with him because he was terminally ill at that point.
In essence, I twice, within a few months, lost the brother I so loved.
That experience gave me the opportunity to experience the agony that others would as well, but also to learn that love really has nothing to do with biology. The depth of suffering is equal to the depth of love.
When we lose what we believe, there is grief involved. Grief over the lost truth, over the part of what we believed ourselves to be that isn’t, doesn’t exist, and dies before the rebirth of a revised identity.
Sometimes grief over the fact that someone lied to us, or hid the truth – even if they believed it was for our own good or their own protection. Grief has many reasons and many forms. But when we lose something we held dear, in any form, we grieve.
The Double Whammy
When grief is mixed with betrayal, it’s even worse. Betrayal takes a couple of forms too. Betrayal of oneself, of a moral compass, or personal betrayal by someone we love and thought we could trust.
Think of betrayal of a moral compass as occurring when someone does something that they know they shouldn’t – and do it anyway. And I’m not talking about eating chocolate here – but actions that are socially, culturally or legally unacceptable – generally addressed by legal or severe personal consequences.
Think of personal betrayal as when you discover that your spouse cheated on you.
Sometimes betrayals involved both kinds of issues. Those are particularly ugly.
This past week or two, I’ve gotten to experience up close and personal three different betrayal/grief situations – although they are not all three mine. Two belong to close friends, which means I share their pain as I have been involved in their respective journeys.
In one case, a woman accidentally discovered through DNA that her mother and her uncle are half instead of full siblings. Yes, there are all kinds of reasons why that might be, but the first assumption out the gate is always that grandma cheated. That may not be the case, but other options, like the possibility that nonconsensual sex might be involved is also disturbing. Most of us clearly know what is involved in begetting, but we really don’t want to know the details of grandma’s sex life. TMI.
Regardless of why, the revelation that the person you grew up with believing was your full sibling is not, and the entire family lived in ignorance, except for one person, who probably lived a lie – is very disturbing on several levels. It means rethinking everything and everyone involved. It also means you’ll probably never know what really happened, but you get to deal with all of the possibilities. A homework assignment no one signs up for.
Been there, done that. It’s ugly and it takes time to get used to your new identity that you don’t like nearly as well as your old one. Your family members get new identities too. And grandma? You’re just confused about her, at the same time remembering that women at that time had very few options. All I can say is try not to judge.
It takes time to process through all of this very emotional high drama, especially when you suddenly realize you’ve spent several decades working on the genealogy of a line that isn’t yours. One more thing to grieve.
In the second case, a friend discovered the identity of his father, after decades of looking, being one of two brothers. Along with that, he discovered why the secret was closely guarded by his mother for her entire life. It’s one of those stories that would make a wonderful soap opera or reality TV show – so long as it’s not your own story. It’s also incredibly sad on so many levels.
My friend is well adjusted. He’ll absorb this, he’ll deal with it and go on. He now owns the truth he sought for so long. However, I know he was hoping that maybe his father had “only been a married man.” At one time, his mother having an affair with a married man seemed scandalous, but compared to the truth, it’s the tame option.
While these types of events are extremely interesting and colorful if they aren’t your ancestors, they are far from amusing when you discover that they pertain to your parent.
Which leads me to the third situation. My own.
Let’s just say that sometimes you have to go through a really dark tunnel to emerge into the light.
The Dominoes Fall
There is a great irony to the fact that I am probably the only person, ever, that knows, or will know when I’m finished, the truth about my father’s life. Except for my father, William Sterling Estes, himself, of course.
The dominoes began to fall a couple weeks ago. And they haven’t stopped. Just when I think there can’t possibly be any more left to discover, there is. It there a bottom to this barrel?
While the two circumstances with my friends involved DNA, one as the accidental medium of discovery, and one as the solution to the long-standing question of paternity, my situation, ironically, has nothing at all to do with DNA.
What are the chances, right?
Sometimes people think that only DNA reveals unsettling surprises, but that’s not the case. Unmasking the truth is as old as genealogy and research itself.
I’ve been prepared for years to find an unknown sibling, or two, or maybe three. Kind of hopeful, actually, since all of the ones I know about are deceased. Nope, that didn’t happen via DNA.
What I have discovered is why there was such a big gap in my father’s life.
Let’s just say I’m struggling through this. I am extremely grateful for the woman who sent me the information, but man alive, has it ever opened a Pandora’s box. Like my friend who unveiled the identity of his father, I got what I wanted but the situation discovered is very disturbing on several different levels – which is obviously why it was hidden by anyone who knew.
The information revealed that my father was using an alias, and was prosecuted for statutory rape after marrying a 15 year old girl. The female in question had listed her age on the marriage license as 18, and had previously told him she was 24 when they met. The testimony asserts that the girl’s mother told my father that the female in question was 15 five days before they were married, which means that he committed statutory rape, because he was an adult. And yes, he went to prison for a felony – for having sex with his wife, who was less than 30 days away from being 16 which was the legal age of consent in that state at that time.
Scratching your head as to how that makes sense? Me too.
The first thing I did was to have a huge meltdown when I saw the words statutory rape. I mean, the second word is horrible enough, before the addition of the first word. That was before I discovered the details, almost two weeks into this nightmare, specifically the age discrepancy issue and the fact that the wife lied about her age on the marriage license – and that the “event” was consensual. I breathed a huge sigh of relief about the consensual part, because I really did not want to think of my father in the way I typically think of a rapist.
There had been vague rumblings in the family about a situation like that, but I thought I had disproved those rumors years ago, based on when and where my father applied for his Social Security card. I was wrong. This was something entirely different. The original rumbling was probably two stories conflated together or someone who only knew a tidbit. That old smoke and fire thing again.
I found it difficult to believe that my father was sentenced to prison under the stated circumstances, so I talked to a historian at the archives in the state where this occurred and then visited the county where the trial proceedings remain. The verdict; yes, that is exactly what happened and why. If a male over the age of consent had sex with a female under the age of consent, it was considered statutory rape. There was absolutely no legal differentiation between that and forcible rape, and the mandatory sentence was the same too.
The woman who sent me the original information assumed I knew about “it” and had omitted the information from his timeline because of what “it” was. Believe me, “it” was news to me.
If you’re saying “Holy Cow” or the same phrase with another word in place of cow, so was I. I walked around for days shaking my head and doing the facepalm. I desperately want to grab ahold of my father, shake him, and scream, “What the hell were you thinking?”
An alias and an underaged girl – what was he thinking? My mother had a saying about that kind of behavior too – something to do with thinking with the wrong body part.
Of course, I’m assuming here that my father did in fact know her true age, but I suspect that he had no idea he could be prosecuted if they were married. Perhaps that’s why they married. Or maybe he believed the girl’s version of her age. His testimony is not included in the case because he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.
Why did he do that, considering the length of a sentence for statutory rape? Perhaps to spare his wife from having to testify about very private things? Maybe he didn’t fully understand. We’ll never know, because I clearly can’t ask him what he was thinking.
I do know, based on his letters, that he didn’t realize that his wife divorced him a couple years later. How sad is that?
And in the greatest of ironies, the judge who sentenced him wound up trying to help him, saying that his hands were tied in the situation by the guilty plea and the mandatory sentence required.
I feel like I’ve spent the past two weeks or so living in a twisty-turny maze that rivals any spine-tingling gripping can’t-put-it-down novel I’ve ever read. Except this is no novel.
As any good genealogist knows, there are clues to be followed. And yes, because I can’t not know, I dug into every clue with the tenacity of a beagle after a fresh bone.
It’s been a productive search too, finding records at state and county archives. Many records. Some with depositions and testimony. Some include heartbreaking letters…from my father.
My father did go to prison, but he was not a violent man. He seemed to have been somewhat impulsive and he loved too many women, the wrong women, too closely together. I can’t help but wonder if there are more wives and marriages yet to be discovered, but because he was using an alias or aliases, I’ll likely never know. If you’re up for some high drama entertainment, you can read more about my father’s story here.
I’m guessing alcohol played a part in his errant decisions too. I’m not surprised, given what we know about his childhood. Both of his brothers had alcohol issues as well. Maybe nature and nurture were both stacked against them.
My mother and others said that my father fought with the demon, alcohol, and tried repeatedly to “get clean.” Those were the days before AA. At his death, Virgie, his wife at the time, said he was clean and had “dried out” in the VA hospital in Fort Wayne. Her daughter said he had fallen off the wagon. Regardless of whether he ultimately won that battle in his 60s or was defeated one last time by alcohol, alcoholism surely informed many of his decisions and negatively affected the relationships in his life in the years my mother knew him – and probably earlier as well.
Yes, my father’s life was “colorful” in a very sad way and the price he paid was heart-wrenching and dark. I shudder to think about his life in prison. I’m still struggling with the reality of my father and prison and all of the associated connotations and baggage.
A history of prisons in the state where he served exists, and it’s so horrid I haven’t been able to read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Yes, prisoners deserve to serve time, but they don’t deserve to be chained together for up to 18 hours a day, working on road construction in the unrelenting heat as, one by one, they fall and die. That’s torture, not punishment or rehabilitation. He served during that time. Is it any wonder that the prison’s detailed inmate records for this time period have somehow disappeared over the years?
More than once in these past couple of weeks I have wondered if it would have been an easier discovery to find out he wasn’t my father at all – rather than to discover my father was not quite who I thought he was.
I will be sharing more with you as I can, while respecting the privacy of people who may still be living. When you’re doing genealogy, you really never expect the big reveal to be your parent – and certainly not in quite this way.
But first, before I can share more, I have to finish the research and get through this dark space and out of the tunnel into the light.
I’m both very angry with my father for his behavior that can’t be called anything but massively stupid, at best, and predatory at worst. It’s very difficult to wrap my head around that and to know that I’ll probably never really know whether he was in some ways a victim himself or whether he was, in truth, a slimy bottom feeder. Or some combination of both.
At the same time, my heart aches terribly for him based on some of the evidence that has come forward. He was, after all, my father, the man I loved and adored. The thought of him being tortured, for years, tears at the very fabric of my soul. Yet, he survived, and so will I.
It’s hard to feel this conflicted about someone you dearly loved and idolized as a child and who was ripped from your life by death. It’s also very difficult to reconcile the man I knew with the man in the impersonal black and white words of the legal proceedings staring back at me resolutely and unblinkingly from paper yellowed with age.
I am sharing this most difficult journey because I want others who find themselves in this darkness, regardless of the details of what put you into this space, to know that you are not alone.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
For all of you who might make or have made an inconvenient or unwelcome discovery – through DNA or through traditional genealogical records – there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And yes, it’s really dark and ugly and lonely in the tunnel, because it’s a tunnel you have to walk alone.
As you struggle in that dark place, I want you to remember something.
You are YOU, not someone else. You may be a biological product of your parents, but more so you are a product of your own hard work and your personal decisions. Your accomplishments and your decisions are yours. Parents don’t get the credit and they don’t get the blame.
Whatever the dark space, you are the awesome outcome, regardless of anything else. You have the opportunity and potential to shine.
Unwelcome discoveries like this may cause you to doubt or devalue yourself. Don’t.
Just. Don’t. Go. There.
There is a fork in the road, multiple forks in the road, for all of us, and it’s the choice you make at those forks that matters. Those forks define your life. Your forks – your decisions, not theirs. Their forks do not reflect on you.
Your life is your book. Your parents only get an opening chapter. You get to write the rest. Those are your blank pages to fill. Yours. Only yours.
You are only in control of you. Your ancestor’s decisions, while they clearly affect your life in terms of your existence, where you were born and your economic circumstances, do not define who you are or dictate the kind of person that you evolve to be or the choices you make.
Regardless of the creepy critters in the dark haunted tunnel, the trap doors and the spider webs, there is a light at the end and you will emerge a better and more empathetic person than you entered. It’s painful, but not fatal.
Just keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t be afraid. The discovery is the worst part, and by the time you’re walking in that tunnel, the discovery is over. You’re now in the healing process. Your wounds will become scars that testify to your strength and survival. Be proud of your resilience.
Just. Keep. Walking.
As I used to say to my kids, “the only way to it is through it.”
Feel the feelings you need to feel, but don’t let those consume you or define you either – and don’t wallow there. No good will come of that. Purposefully walk through the tunnel and out the other end into the warmth and light. The rest of your life is waiting for you, and you ARE the light for others.
Easter is, after all, a time of resurrection and redemption – of the earth when flowers joyfully spring from their long sleep and as our souls emerge from colorless hibernation as well.
Take heart, spring always arrives, no matter how long, cold or bleak the winter in the tunnel!
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Roberta, many people in distant days past were sent to mental institutions for reasons not related to mental issues. Some husbands sent their wives who had become “inconvenient”.
The saddest case I have read about was the very beautiful Kennedy girl, daughter of Joseph and Rose. Because she had a bit of a rebellious streak, and the family was afraid she would do something to embarrass them, they had her lobotomized and she lived a very long life in a mental institution. Of course, there could have been more to the story. History and words are written by “he who holds the pen.”
Thank you for sharing.
The Kennedy daughter had developmental delays, she functioned at about the age of a 9-10 y.o. Today of course she would get special ed services and while she probably could never have lived independently she could have had a good life. They were worried about her inability to protect herself and being taken advantage of, she was a vulnerable adult. The best psychiatric experts at the time were recommending lobotomies. We can’t judge the past by what we know today. It was a decision made in good faith, however appallingly we see it today. And the Kennedy’s hiding her away was what was done back then. It’s a tragic story but don’t judge it by today’s standards.
The Kennedy girl lived out her life at a Catholic home inWisconsin. I had an Aunt who also had a lobotomy in the early 1950’s in Wisconsin. She was normal through high school and in her early 20’s developed some very aggressive behaviors. After her lobotomy she was able to return home and lived the rest of her life with her parents, then her mother when her father died and the last few years with my parents. My Aunt was functional although was never able to hold a job. She loved to play cards and bingo and was very clever in her own way. It did not destroy her but actually helped her to live out the rest of her life outside of an institution where the Dr.s had told my grandparents was their only choice. They told them to forget about her. Antipsychotic meds were not around then. My Aunt was loved and amazed us at times. She could take care of her own physical needs and could do most household chores. Planning ahead or living alone would have been difficult but she still had a good life.
Roberta this was not on my Vannoy line.
The movie – The Lost Prince –
Prince John, the youngest child of George V and Queen Mary, has epilepsy and learning disabilities.
Initial release: January 19, 2003
Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Awards: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series,
Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story. You continue to to walk your talk, and not only uncover family secrets, share your findings, but you share your personal roller-coaster of emotions each step of the way. Bless You for encouraging us to face our unknown stories with the same tenacity.
Roberta, I hope that through sharing it eases the pain. So many things that people did not speak of in the past. One of course being mental illness. I have worked for a mental health organization for half my life, and there are few stories I haven’t heard before. I have also found an institutionalized ancestor of my own. There are none among us who have no skeletons of some kind in our closets. It’s called being human. We can’t know what was in the minds of our ancestors (including recent ones) when they made the decisions they did, if the consequences were less than desirable. You are you! More than the sum of your DNA parts! Remember the good that you knew.
Roberta, Thanks for this story. You do great work. Are you having any trouble with Ancestry losing your DNA Circles. I had 74 & now only 20. This happened with Ancestry’s latest changes.
All of my circles are still intact, however, one of my two kits that tested me for comparison doesn’t have any NADS, while the other has 15. The test with NADs is the V1 test and the one without is V2, but the Circles between the two are the same. Ancestry is know for disappearing Circles and NADs. Hopefully yours will come back.
Just read this interesting post.
Roberta. I can relate somewhat. I have two suicides in my family over a period of 8 yrs in the late 1930s early 1940s. One was the husband of my great aunt(PGM’s sister) and the other was the brother of my PGM. I contacted the police departments and they didn’t have anything other than call records and cold cases.One of the police archivers sent the article from the newspaper. The entire story is there….a great amount of details and they printed his suicide note which his children’s names (two of which were minors) While he was a great uncle by marriage he was also blood kin to me thru another line and had been staying with my Pat. Grandparents at the time of his suicide.It was a terribly sad situation. I don’t know if my PGM’s brother left a note and I’m kind of reluctant to look for more details.The other one shook me to the core.
This may be one of the most important posts you have written. I have been working on my adopted children’s genealogies and discovered some chilling and confusing things and the reality is that other people’s mistakes and tragedies belong to them and not to their children. All the complicated relationships are there too, including likely new fathers etc. I have baggage in my own tree too. You articulated the complexity of the family journey so beautifully, thank you for sharing, which you surely didn’t need to do, and yet will be of the greatest service to many because you did.
Thank you. I really hope it helps many. It was certainly difficult to write.
Dear Roberta, You have strength, compassion, intelligence and wisdom. Are those a result of nature or nurture? Through these stories of your ancestors you tell the stories of us all. I know this one took bravery to write, but it was deeply meaningful and, as the daughter of a complex man dealing with so much generational trauma I know it will touch many a nerve with your readers. It certainly did with me. As May Sarton said; “The deeper you go into the personal, the more universal it is.” My mother (b 1904) was a paranoid schizophrenic, as were a number of her older relatives. Families of that (and earlier) eras did all they could to protect their loved ones from public scrutiny, and only a few violent or completely unmanageable ones ended up institutionalized. However, families suffered terribly behind facades of “normalcy”.
I wasn’t really prepared for the suffering, both his and other people’s. I think we are all challenged to go beyond the constraints of our ancestors, whether those constraints were imposed by others or themselves. I love your comment, “a complex man.” 🙂
I was mesmerized by your painful tale of love and deception. I kept thinking how cathartic and how blessed that you have us, the folks who love you to pieces, to take the step of revealing uglies. Secrets keep us sick, they say.
Indeed, Sharon, I am blessed – and thank you.
My grandmother has a full hysterectomy in the days before hormone replacement therapy. Think of being hit with menopause on steroids. The poor woman was committed for several years.
Also remember that you have only the mother-in-law’s word that she told your father before not after the wedding.
Your piece was marvelous.
Just sending kudos and a hug….
“Your life is your book. Your parents only get an opening chapter. You get to write the rest. Those are your blank pages to fill. Yours. Only yours.”
Thanks for another great post Roberta. Your blog is outstanding, however some of your recent posts have hit home.
Consider also the family history of one of the most influential man to walk this earth–Christ Jesus, son of David. Not even his family tree was populated with perfectly well behaved and morally correct people, including King David.
If I may offer another perspective:
Though we may be shocked by the personal “sins” of others, uncovering my family history has led me to a different view of American culture, norms, standards, and law.
As for mental illness, our understanding of what constitutes mental illness and some of the causes have only recently begun to be understood. Psychiatry and psychology are relatively new fields.
Spiritual illnesses and character flaws have long been known, but not everyone has the opportunity to become aware of them or learn of them to correct and amend their own life. Society itself can create forces that encourage certain behaviors. Yes, murder seems among the worst, but how about malicious gossiping, bullying, battering, cultural genocide? None of us walk our entire life without a misstep somewhere, and can we honestly say we’ve never harmed another in any way? So yes, having an attitude of forgiveness is crucial in this journey. I’d say the majority of people in this country have ancestors who participated in some way or another in the blanket approval of genocide of indigenous people in the United States and Canada, even if it is just by saying nothing and quietly assuming property rights knowingly displacing people from their land.
Having just begun the DNA genealogy one year ago, some of the same issues come up over and over again with matches. One is the match who is missing a male family member, usually father or grandfather due to a mother refusing to tell the truth about her child’s parentage. Sometimes, in the rare case, the mother honestly and simply doesn’t know due to a fleeting moment of passion, and she may not be particularly happy to report this to her child, but tells it as it is. There are probably cases of rape as well, but I haven’t come across it yet. The usual scenario I am finding is the mother made a decision to have carnal relations with a man, conceived, then later decided to deny the child the information when asked. This is particularly cruel. This phenomenon may lessen as the population ages to a certain degree past Roe v Wade. Now mothers can simply abort an inconvenient child. Also the social stigma and shunning of women with out of wedlock births has lessened.
The other issue is the Great Assimilation whereby a planned attempt to make indigenous people disappear was implemented by government and churches. There is also a social status component of poverty involved as well.
My discovery included both of the above. Laws to protect indigenous children from being stolen by government workers for forced assimilated were put into place after I was born, so hopefully there will be less lost children looking for family due to this issue in the future. Some of these children grew up and have written about this experience. Some tribes are trying to bring their own back into the fold.
There is also the issue of adoption agencies coercing ‘white’ children from poor single mothers and selling children at profit as a business enterprise. The law allowed this, people turned a blind eye to it. A false identity was legally manufactured for the child, the child’s entire history was buried, and everyone was to pretend that nothing of importance had occurred. In the era I grew up in, sometimes the child wouldn’t be told that they were adopted. It would be a family secret that everyone knew except the child. In contrast to mainstream American culture, the Indian tribal rolls often carefully tracked ‘illegitimate’ children and named names. Adopted children took their family name with them. This appears to be another social double standard, or perhaps a cultural tradition that mainstream society should have learned from.
Being actively denied paternal information by a recalcitrant mother is a very painful position to be in for many adults who may experience a troubling lack of peace in this area throughout their life. Even if the father is deceased or uninterested in his offspring, there is a sense of closure to know who he is. Sometimes he as a singular person is not the most interesting fact, but knowing his heritage may be of great interest. Identity isn’t always wrapped up in one person–it has a community component.
Sometimes a woman will pass off another man’s child to get someone else to support the child in the father’s stead. Of course this is patently unfair to the unwitting man who is tricked into adopting a child. Sometimes the woman just decides out of spite or shame from social pressure that she simply will not be honest and forthcoming. There are various scenarios, but the DNA genealogy community seems to be chock full of people trying to find missing close family members. It also seems to be full of members continue the tradition of shunning the lost children. Perhaps they are loathe to admit their father wandered from their mother, or vice versa.
The issue of women who hide the identity of a child’s father has yet to gain much traction. This has begun to be touched on by the development of open adoption in the case of a mother who relinquishes a child. Yet there were, and are, many single mothers who keep their child but outright lie or withhold the truth of the father’s identity. I believe laws should be in place that protect children from maternal (and paternal) fraud and dishonesty. Most of us are told that to grow up means accepting responsibility for our actions. As a society perhaps we should be helping each other to do just that.
Was an interesting day when my own spiteful “white” mother showed me photos from her visit to the First Nations museum in Canada and commented how interesting and beautiful the people are, and I could look her in the eye and say, “Those are my people, I come from them”. A stunned silence followed.
I am thankful that DNA genealogy was developed. I am thankful for your blog Roberta, it convinced me to make the leap and find answers for myself. I discovered I am not alone in my search, that our social norms and government policies to a great degree determined my life circumstances as well as personal decisions made in the shadow of those norms.
I have since found some mention of this issue in the United Nations, Canada and even Argentina. It is the right to identity, for better or worse.
We can only hope that in the United States the rights of children will evolve to include the right to know at minimum their parentage. The United States, however, is one of the slowest countries in the world to sign off on basic human rights issues:
Article 8: Preservation of identity
1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to speedily re-establishing his or her identity
Thank you for writing this. Stay busy, and take care of yourself.
You could have been an episode of “Who do you think you are?”
All of us who do serious genealogical research come to unwanted events, but it is more difficult when it is closer. At least, as a grown-up adult, you have what it takes to put it in perspective.
I was surprised when I read in a health-related report (Promethease) that addiction and perseverance were in fact the same genetic pattern. I quote “trait related to addictive behavior, in women, perseverance”. Novelty-seeking is also genetic. Combined, they can get someone in trouble really fast, or make good research scientists…
At 25 when my parents were divorcing, my mother spilled the beans that my father had been married before and I had 2 other siblings. No more picket fence for me! The good news is my half brother and I have become friends and now do genealogy research together. My father abandoned him and he never saw him again. I lived my life without having this brother nor many of my father’s family since this secret was being kept from me. We both lost but now we get to make our own relationship without the lies and fears of the last generation. Truth is not always pretty but I believe it wins out for the best in the end. Thank you for sharing such a difficult story. I feel for you.
Thank you so much for writing this, in all its wrenching detail.
Thank you for sharing this, Dan. What a tremendous family history you have discovered. My own story pales in comparison to yours, and I am glad that we share an ancestor and therefore a story. I’m not part of this one, but I can only tell you that I am fully aware of your pain, and of the seriousness of the various hurdles that happened in your history. Many would bury the truth and you have chosen to share it. Maybe we’ll find out something interesting in William Franklin’s case, but I do not believe it will be quite this intriguing. Hugs, cuz.
Happy Easter. How appropraite that you have been given the opportunity to learn so much, and grapple with what you have learned and taught us all in the process. I have a great grandfather affectionately dubbed by my cousins a-hole Frank. He was not a nice guy. He was finally divirced by my great grandmother after she found him spending the money she earned in a brothel. He is the reason my grandather dropped out of HS. And why his sisters never talked about their father….We all have them in our families…and we all have the good, bad and the ugly within us. We do the best we can. Thank you for all you do and share!
Thank you for sharing this. Some time ago, I commented on one of your previous posts that DNA testing had surprisingly revealed that my younger sister was, in fact, my half sister and that she had blurted out that information to our 88-year-old dad. Subsequently, Dad tested, which verified that he is my father but not her father. Many hours of conversations with my dad brought back memories he had repressed of my mother’s seeing someone else when I was a very small child. To make a long story short, we have had to grapple with acknowledging that my mother didn’t want me or my younger brother but doted on our sister who was actually the child of her lover. My sweet father has had to acknowledge that although his own name is on my sister’s birth certificate, he is not her biological father. We still are working through this (I even went and talked to our priest about it all). Again, thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration!
I remember your comment. These are really very difficult situations that involve many people. There is no universal advice and there is no guaranteed way to make your way through the quagmire, as you already know. The saddest part of this is the pain it has caused your father. My measuring stick in these kinds of situations is “do no harm.” I’m sure you wish that had been your sister’s measuring stick as well. Your family is in my prayers.
Thank you for your prayers. You will be in mine also.
I don’t understand your second story that is not yours but a friend of yours who discovered that “his father was one of two brothers”. That right there makes zero sense to me. Please explain……Surely you don’t mean that his brother was his father!
My friend discovered the identity of his grandmother. At this point, we can’t tell which of her two sons was my friend’s father. So his father is one of two brothers.
I just finished writing the following personal message to someone on a GG site. I’ll repeat it here as I think of it as being universally applicable:
“I don’t have any NPE’s in my family tree, which only goes back 200+ years in recorded documentation. I was lucky in that regard, but every family has it’s problems and unresolved difficulties, as it is part of the human experience. All those disputes, frictions and wrongdoings of prior generations affect us and influence who we are, whether we are willing to admit it or not.
Genealogy is ultimately about human relations, past, present and future. It’s more than just recorded names and dates, or DNA samples. Ultimately it is about knowing ourselves. You can’t change anyone but yourself, and we all need to realize that. When the cycle of ignorance or family discord is broken, you have reached a different and higher level of understanding – one that can never be lost or reversed. That is true progress, both for you, everyone related to you, and ultimately for the world”
I’ve compared the progression of common genealogical familial problems to that of ripples in a pool, reverberating over generations. The ripples will naturally diminish over time, as time heals all wounds. People die, and events are usually forgotten. Heinous crimes should not be dismissed, nor easily forgotten, however.
We can’t change our genetic composition, nor undo our past experiences from the way in which we were nurtured. Both factors apply, as the old ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate is not an ‘either-or’ argument. But once we have attained self-awareness it changes the situation as it changes our perspective – and that change can come, and only does come through thought and action by us, individually.
Free will or fate? Both pertain to some degree. As my dear departed mother used to say when things got tough, “Just do the very best you can, and keep trying.”
Roberta, this is one of your most important posts, because in it, you show that we are not neatly predictable genetic figures. You put flesh on the genetic bones and remind us that we are dealing with human beings, with all their courage and failures, not just cold data. And on this Easter Sunday, it is good to remember that we do not need to judge our forebears, that we need only remember “Except for the Grace of God, there go I,” and practice the empathy that knowledge gives us. It is not always given us to understand, though, like you, I am driven by that need.
Do you know that infants at the age of 3 months develop the attitude to each parent that the other one shiows that parent? We learn so young, so long before we have will power or moral beliefs. It is purest hubris to believe in our private power to construct life as we choose. The self-made man is an American dream, not a reality. As a people, we don’t like to acknowledge that while we can control many things in our lives, many are quite beyond our power.
And your early respondents were correct in saying there were many reasons besides genuine mental illness that landed people in mental hospitals. My mother helped a number of brilliant young women who had epilepsy and had been placed in a state institution for the retarded by their wealthy parents who were ashamed of them. With a doctor at that institution, she helped them develop their minds and skills and he found them homes with compassionate, lonely people in the NYC area. That was long before I was born, but at Christmas Mother always received cards and often exotic (for Louisiana) textiles or other things they knew she would appreciate. They worked in wardrobe departments of theatres, did set design, became illustrators and makersof fine French handsewn children’s garments among other things. Most married, though none had children. Despite their intelligence, they had been warehoused by parents with social pretensions. Imagine that!
Regardless of what Julia Sugarbaker said about Southern eccentrics being valued, many women were committed to mental institutions during menopause. All that was needed was their family’s or husband’s will and an easily obtained certificate from a male doctor. Similarly, husbands often found in mental institutions a good place to dump a wife when they wanted divorces. It is still shockingly easy to do that.
Bi-polar depression is a genetic predisposition in my husband’s family. We dated five years before we married, went to graduate school together, our families lived in the same community, and I had no idea. My husband’s behavior became inncreasingly hard to explain and created many problems in our family. And yet even when our son was diagnosed in his college years, the result of my efforts, my husband never mentioned that among his first cousins on his mother’s side, there had been 3 suicides! He had told me the deaths resulted from a gun-cleaning accident, a hunting accident, and a boating accident. Only after I left him—after a 43-year marriage that was often good but increasingly deranged, did I learn this or that his siblings had also been diagnosed as seriously depressive. One lost everything gambling, but told the little flock which she had presumed to minister that ‘it was not her fault. She was addictive.’ Yet she would not admit to the depression and OCD and other things that make up the bi-polar depressive pattern. She’d rather go to Addicts Annonymous than admit to a mental illness. The person who revealed all this to me was a sister who had been pretty well banished from the family because when she was diagnosed, she followed her doctor’s directions, went on a medication that let her live a full, normal, happy life. The rest of the family called her crazy. I hated my husband when I learned this, for our son could have been one of those suicides. I hated his selfishness. And yet I know he adored our children—in his way, for he too had demons he dared not acknowledge. By the time I realized what was going on, I think our children had developed patterns of behavior they refused to or could not deal with. Both are highly successful people, but they could have been happier longer had I known the things my husband knew. So even today, among supposedly enlightened people, we see the pridefulness involved in not wanting to believe mental illness could strike us. Just think what it was earlier!
If we work at it long enough, I imagine genealogy can help keep us humble. And that’s a good thing. Ultimately. But sometimes in the short term, it can unsettled our visions of our lives. Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is generally misunderstood to be about the experience of taking an untrodden path, which required daring and courage and coming to a good end as a result of that choice. The poem actually spoofs that notion. In the poem Frost’s speaker stands at the fork of a road and tries to decide which he will take. He’s no longer young (it is fall) and he looks down one as far as he can see and then simply take thes other for no clear reason. He tried to tell himself the one he took “was grassy and wanted wear,” though he says, “But both that morning equall lay/In leave no step had trodden black….” In other words, the roads looked the same; both were covered in leaves. But that is not what he is going to say to those who ask him why he chose the path he did. He envisions himself at some future time: “I shall be telling this[the choice] somewhere ages and ages/Hence: two roads met in a wood, and I—I told the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” Why will he not tell the truth? Well, we Americans like to think we are in control and we like to think we are ration. Who wants to tell folks, “I don’t have a single idea why I took that road”? We construct rational, likely, admirable narratives of our lives for public —and private—consumption. That’s fine so long as we realize we are ultimately in control of far fewer things than we think. That is particularly true of children, bless them. When those narratives are shaken, it takes us a while to adjust. But compassion requires us to walk in the shoes of those whose behaviors have set our heads swimming.
You DID take the untrodden path in this blog entry. Most would have said nothing. Bless you.
I hope there nothing else you don’t know, even though you fear there is.
I don’t have any disturbing ancestor closer than a great-grand-father, who die when my grand-mother was 6, so there’s little details passed on. He was an alcoholic, plus a wife and kid beater.
Roberta, thank you for sharing this unsettling discovery. And thank you for the “we can choose” message at the end.
Timshel (East of Eden, by John Steinbeck).
You were loved and knew it. Some people around you made major mistakes that you could do nothing about. But a great many do not have that love to remember.
Thank you for so well recounting what you still wrestle with.
Although the disease of alcoholism can have life-long devastating effects on an individual and on his or her family, It is not a moral failing. Your father deserves all the love and compassion you are giving him, along with all the other feelings of anger and betrayal. Thank you for your sharing and your wisdom.
Definitely some hard things to deal with. Bless you for sharing them. I understand how difficult it can be to realize that a person you thought of one way had so many secrets and questionable behaviors. I know you will come through that tunnel even if the journey is painful and upsetting. I think it’s always difficult for a child to discover that a parent is different than they originally knew. We often forget that while that person is our parent they are also fallible human beings who make poor decisions, behave badly and disappoint us by their past actions when we discover them as adults. From what you have written, I’d have to say your father was poorly prepared to handle life in general, I’m sure he was seeking something which he himself might never have really understood. There are so many temptations in this world, so many things that seem fine at first glance. I know that we can not walk another’s life, can not be in those moments of decision or action, we can only look from where we are now and try to understand as much as possible, be compassionate to all involved and forgive our ancestors for those things that are truly wrong. A friend of mine whom I was helping with some confusing bits of information in her family tree finally said something that stuck with me, “you just can’t try the dead, there are only bits of information available to us, we can’t know their minds or hearts, they can’t mount any kind of defense and we must remember that.” Keeping you in my prayers.
Wow, that is a lot to take in ! There are things I’ve discovered about one of my grandparents, who died before I was born, that don’t add up with the stories their children tell at reunion time. According to them, he was a saint, never doing anything wrong. However, when my sister and I visited my grandmother shortly before she died, she would tell us things – things that she never even told her own children. I think she knew we wouldn’t judge him like his own children would, or maybe didn’t want them to remember him as anything less than a wonderful husband and dad. We don’t think any less of him though, because he was just a man with failures like any other person. I even wish I could have known him, warts and all.
This article reminds me of a meme I saw with a picture of the beautiful Dixie Carter as “Designing Women” Julia Sugarbaker. She is quoted as saying. ” I am saying this is the South. And we are proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off. See, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they’re on.”
I loved Julia!
THIS is SO true!! I LOVE that quote!!
Truly words of wisdom, at the end of the search. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing this story. I have been researching my own family genealogy for a number of years now. I was able to let my father know before his death the “real story” of his own mother’s childhood, not just the bits of information that she was told. I had found the actual evidence that her family tried to cover up. Her mother lived in a state hospital to take care of a handicapped child, rather than give her up as per her much older husband’s demands.
I also thank you for bringing to light the stories about the children in your article. I personally believe that you choose the way you want to live and your “parents” or the biological family that you belong to only are there for a very short period of time, NOT your entire life if you don’t want them to treat you that way forever. I have several close friends that had VERY rough childhoods, but they did not let it dictate how they have lived their lives as adults.
Thank you, Roberta for sharing your story.
My mother died in 1999, and she died still hating her father. He was an alcoholic, womanizer, abuser, and had other children with other women besides my grandmother. In my attempt to find out just the basic information (date and place of death) on my grandfather, I hit a “goldmine” of newspaper articles from at least three states….big bold headlines. His first claim to “fame” was “kidnapping” his own son and hiding him away in Texas after divorcing his first wife. The Texas authorities refused to force him to send his son back nor for him to stand trial to Georgia, so Georgia’s governor made contact with Texas’ governor to let them come get both father and son. The deputy sent to pick them up took a nap on the train back to Georgia and both my Grandfather and his son escaped and stayed in Texas.
But then I came upon the second situation that made even more papers. in 1912 he shot a man to death in front of the man’s family for “claim jumping” in southern Oklahoma. He was sentenced to hang at the gallows at McAlester State Prison in Oklahoma within 6 months. They filed an appeal and the appeal court ruled that the first court’s decision was correct…so a second death date was set for Christmas. My grandfather was on Death Row. (You couldn’t make up a story as unusual as this one) Seems like the 2nd governor of OK changed his death sentence to life in prison right before it happened. The 3rd governor changed the life in prison to 15 years, then changed it to full pardon…and sent him home. The Federal Land Management had decided that my grandfather was the true owner of the land and I think that softened the sentence…in fact, the local sheriff was a character witness. I found all the court records, appeals records, and the newspapers covered just about everything word for word. This was never part of the story my mother told. I don’t know if even my father knew about this. I also found in the local newspaper where they lived that her mother had to live on “orphans and widows’s charity” given out by the county. When I was just working with the census, I never knew about the death row situation. In the 1910 census he was living in Lawton, OK with his family and in 1920 census he was still in the same place. So all that happened with the murder and prison happened between 1912-1917.
I did find out that he died of alcoholism related medical problems at the home of one of his sisters in Georgia in 1931. My mother was only 2 years old when he shot the man, but she had to grow up in the small Oklahoma town with everyone knowing the family’s history. It’s hard for me to believe that as open as she was about hating her father, that she never told anyone about his murdering a man. But then again, back in those days they settled things in a courtroom when possible, and then with a gun when it wasn’t possible. I also found out later in my research, the man he killed was a cousin of his first wife…so there was bad blood between them for years.
From the DNA aspect, I did find a second cousin who lives in North Carolina who was the great-grandson of my grandfather. I paid for him to get both Y-DNA and Family Finder test…plus I had him tested for the “Warrior gene”. There was so much violence in that line of males…I found death certificate for one of my grandfather’s brothers who was killed in a drunken family brawl and his body was thrown out on the highway. He had been stabbed to death. Another brother was arrested for shooting a man who threw rocks as wagons going by on his road. Interestingly, the man who was shot testified in court that he was to blame and didn’t hold it against my great-uncle because he realized it was wrong to throw rocks at people on the road.
Anyway, my 2nd cousin didn’t have the “warrior gene” and he has been married to the same woman for over 50 years…and he’s not a drunk. So thankfully, he chose a different path than his male ancestors.
Wow Judy, and I thought mine was wild. You need to write this up. But your poor Mom and grandmother.
My children reminded me that I always said I wanted to write a novel…this was my chance. The night that I found all those newspaper articles, I was sitting here with my mouth open in shock. I called my older brother and I said, “Did you know that our grandfather was a murderer?”
I even asked my last living aunt (96 when she died) if mother ever told her about this and she was shocked also. She was my mother’s sister-in-law and our families were together all the time….but she had never heard about it.
I’m with you. I was doing the same thing. Just absolutely stunned into silence in disbelief.
Your reminder is important that even the bad ancestors left a wonderful legacy in their descendants. Who have the opportunity of leaving an even more wonderful legacy of not copying the parts of their ancestors’ behavior that was appalling. And even better, improving things as did the prison and mental hospital reformers. Thank God for people like Charles Colson and the reformers like him. And for you, Roberta, who are doing your own bit of reforming and helping people cope with hard things.
Past ripples in the genealogical pool of life… those ripples are the tiny waves that reveal the past, of who we are – as well as that of who we might become.
Once we see the pool, if and when we understand it for what it is, we become changed by what we see and what we know. Then that pool, both genetic and environmental, will forever have an effect and make a difference in our minds, in the future. If we understand that and act upon it, we will eventually make an important and beneficial difference, both to ourselves and with everyone we come in contact with.
Roberta, I can only imagine how difficult this story was to share. However, in doing so you have helped and enlightened many people who are struggling with their personal discoveries. Each of us has things in our families that are hidden and unknown; just waiting to be discovered. I too am waiting for long lost half siblings to surface. But with the help of your story, I will deal with it when the time comes. Thanks again for sharing!
Roberta, after living 94 full years and 9 months, with the last 20 or so of those years spent researching my family history, I now sum it all up as the good, the bad, and the ugly. With all the frailties of human nature, the bad and the ugly triumph far too often and those triumphs of the bad and the ugly are in a wide range of human families. Some families are just better at hiding them.
I think the thing that bothers me most is a feeling of betrayal when I was not allowed to know the daughter of my grandfather who was born to the sister of his wife. Ugly, yes, but the child was not to blame and did not deserve the treatment she got. Dad only told me when I started working on our family genealogy and he knew I would find the truth. He was an old man of 82, but it was still a painful and embarrassing memory for him. Both his father and mother died in the same year when he was 12 years old. Dad wanted to remember his father as perfect and for his children, who never knew their grandfather to think of him as perfect too. Well, truth be told, none of are.
Helen, it’s so good to hear from you again. You always have such wisdom to share. Keep in touch!
All families have “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in them, to some degree. The families that have an NPE in their past or in their present midst might feel ashamed or embarrassed – until they read about a family that has had a murderer or two in their ancestral line.
It’s all too easy to let your ancestry affect you to the point in which it becomes that of a ‘pity party’ of dwelling on the past, a past which was of their making, not YOURS.
Our ancestors were instrumental in creating us – but we didn’t create THEM, nor are we responsible for anything they did. There is no reason for us to have any guilt, shame or embarrassment (nor to take any pride) in their misdeeds. Understand it, put it in perspective, forgive it, if you need to, but move on.
As long as you aren’t a horse thief or a murderer, you’re probably doing just fine. Consider that as generational progress. 😉
Thank you so much for this article, had to be extremely tough to put that to paper. I’ve only been researching my family for about 10 years. My father had a “bare-bones” family tree done by one of his sisters –but would not share it for years. The reason? His father “messed” with one of his daughters after the death of his wife, she left the home, moved many miles away with an older sister, father went to the school to try to get her to come home, she refused, he shot himself in the principal’s office. My dad was only 12 when this occurred–he was so ashamed and hid it for over 60 years (what a burden to hide!!)–he finally admitted this to the entire family after my mother’s funeral in 2007. I found newspaper articles relating the suicide, of course, nothing was mentioned concerning the reason for the suicide. My dad, who was a very loving, kind person, always feared becoming like his father! It had only been in the past few years, that he could comfortably hug one of us, or handle a kiss on the cheek. I can’t even imagine!!
That poor man. Your father I mean.
“The Shadow knows.”
Wow… on sooo many levels. Your discoveries, both factual / perceptual, and those of the folks who have already commented here, boiling down our own questions about, and feelings of, “why do we, as ‘Keepers of the Truth’ for future generations (but also concerned with honoring our ancestors, if possible!), subject ourselves to this emotional torment?”
Horrible analogy, but, well — as with peeling off scabs, sometimes necessary to reveal infection underneath, however that segues into more uncertainty. Has our ‘special ‘need to know’ targeted and pegged us to further mental and physical contamination?
As with popular fiction, the answers that our select group seek need to be dramatic, in order to keep us interested in our archeological dig, yet conflict in and with the story often turns into ‘ it hurts so good’, tempering us into future ‘Sages at the top of the Mountain’, which gives us the Cred to counsel, “‘Ware!’ what you ask for.”
All very metaphysical, to say the least. And so it goes.
“And so it goes…” is a tagline I’ve used for years. When I first started blogging, I was extremely tempted to end every blog with that sentence. Ironic that you would use it, particularly with THIS article:)
Sometimes I wonder if we have ghosts helping or hindering our research? No I do not see or hear them. LOL
I LOVED this. Such depth and insight and transparency. And what a journey you’ve been on! When we dig through the past, we must be prepared to find things that will be anywhere from unsettling to downright devastating. I was found on a doorstep and DNA helped me find my birth parents. A mother who the secret of me to her grave and a father, still living, who knew nothing of a pregnancy, a baby girl, or a doorstep. I expected so many of the emotions you describe here as I uncovered the answers to my past. Thanks for sharing!!
❤️ We all have some cross to bear. Always remember to take care of yourself.