Genealogy and family values: What colorful secrets are lurking?


Skeleton in ones past
re you related to nobility? Do you have illustrious ancestors? Or, did you have skeletons in the family closet waiting to be discovered?

Many family historians harbor a secret wish to find ancestors of distinction. That’s why professional genealogists, people hired to research a client’s roots, have been known to bend a few facts from time to time. And why amateur genealogists may accept uncorroborated data. (Scroll down to yesterday’s post about the many reasons people research family history.)

I didn’t have any pretensions. And I wasn’t disappointed, as you’ll read below. My motivation was puzzle solving—like Eoghan’s (see his comment to the right). No one knew much about our family roots and no one really cared. I think that’s typical of many Americans. Most immigrants came to America to escape something—be it religious persecution, wars, starvation, or dim economic prospects. Others came against their will, enslaved.

For those who traveled here voluntarily, coming to America was forward looking and many didn’t want to look back.

So, why such a wave of interest, now? One is the relative ease of searching. There’s an ever-growing array of resources to conduct genealogy—millions of official and unofficial records online ready to be searched. (Scroll down to read about the extensive data offered by the Mormons, as well as their religious motivations for genealogy.)

And, there is now DNA genealogy, as well! For a fee, you could swab your cheek and have your DNA deciphered. For me, that was the key to corroborating an uncertain paper trail and proving links to a Baker ancestor five generations ago.

What I found is that I am directly descended from a long line of Scot-Irish moonshiners who lived in the wild back-country of Appalachia. I even found a will bequeathing the family still to the next generation.

I always wondered about the lack of written records in my family—no diaries, no letters. The reason, I learned, was that they were illiterate. For example, my great grandfather signed his marriage certificate with his “mark”—an X.

What does it all mean? It means that I’m pretty lucky. And, I have a lot of colorful stories to bore friends with.

What have you found out? Why does it mean to you? 


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