2021 Sep 18 Sat

The Dark Side of Genealogy

The Dark Side of Genealogy
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The life of a genealogist is not always all ‘fun n games’ like some people believe. When we uncover real tragedy, especially in our own family, it’s upsetting. It’s not gossip. When you find the truth behind a well-kept secret and it’s a scandalous thing that’s quite shocking, should you tell anyone else about it?

Some of the saddest things I’ve seen in my research is my own family’s history. I don’t usually talk about the who-is-who, but there have been some really sad things that have happened. My great-great-grand uncle on my paternal side was married three times and outlived all five of his children. Just before the last one died, he had taken in two small children because their mother ran away. Without being there, it’s really hard to say what happened or why she left and why my relative took the children. The boy he raised but kept his original name. The girl he adopted. Several years later, his son died leaving his adopted daughter as his only legit heir. When he finally died, in his last will and testament, he divided up his estate between his adopted daughter and some of his last wife’s nieces and nephews.

I could not imagine the heart ache he went through. He buried 2 toddler children, then his young wife a couple years later. He remarried about a year later and they were married a very short time when she died. He finally moved away to the next county over. There he won the heart of another young woman and they had three children. One died in her mid-teens, another just after she turned twenty-one, and the oldest lived to be twenty-six when he died and left a childless widow behind.

In another instance, another uncle of mine a few generations back left home. More than forty years after nobody heard from him again, he had passed away in a State hospital. He was unmarried and no apparent children or heirs. It’s really unknown if he even had any friends with him when he died. He’s buried in a place that is virtually impossible to get into and whatever records might have existed on him have long since been destroyed.

What about the cousin that was accused of rape, but acquitted of the charges yet the child was his by consent? What of the other cousin who was accused of rape, found guilty, and ran to another State to hide for the rest of his life? What of the uncles who had multiple children by multiple wives and ran from each of them?

What of the children who died in infancy or as toddlers? The wife who died the next day after giving birth to a still born child or one that died shortly after birth? What about the grandfather who outlived all his children and had only 3 grandchildren for heirs?

There is a good deal of sadness in doing genealogy. The mortality rates were high, science of yesteryear were no where near as refined today for medical care, and life was hard. Horse thieves were beaten and/or hung. Children died from accidents such as fall in the fire or down into an open cellar door. Diseases like consumption would ripe through whole regions and decimate the population. The Spanish Flu of 1918 was no better.

We talk about our love of family. We record it, cherish those memories, and celebrate their lives by talking about their exploits or the gossip of who and what that happened more than a hundred years ago. We write books, blogs, and web sites in their honor so their names will not pass from history. We also embrace the tragedy and sadness that comes with that family. They had hopes, dreams, struggles, and hardships. They knew pain and disappointment. They loved family and lost loved ones. They did the best they could with what they had and knew how. Are we any different?

As genealogists, we record and report the good with the bad. The tragedy and celebrations alike. We remember those who went before us and find solace in their perseverance and hope in their triumphs. They had far less in their day than what we have available to us today and yet, they made it just fine. If they did it and I came from them, then I can do it too.

Genealogy is not as much fun as some people believe. It’s more than just records, names, dates, and facts. It’s the study of their lives and with it all, we accept the good with the bad. After all, they are family.

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Editor-in-Chief for The Daily Journal

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