Ancestry Holes

I have returned to http://www.ancestry.com to update some new information on our ancestry, primarily on my wife’s family. The website is a powerful tool, but be prepared for it to suck you in and not let you resurface for hours. It is both fascinating and addictive, so be wary. The addictive nature is one reason I had to take a hiatus a few years ago. But, if you like history and/ or puzzles, you will love digging into the website tool. Trust me, there will be mysteries to be solved, given common names and lack of specificity in the information you search with.

What is interesting about our two family histories is their similarities and size. For the record, you can easily confirm that the “rhythm method” was a poor means of birth control. Plus, rural families as in our heritage tended to have more kids for labor supply. And, the further back you go, two additional things will pop out. First, it was not uncommon for people to marry second cousins, as the circles of social exposures were somewhat restricted. That makes interesting family trees.

Second, the other noteworthy observation is the huge damage that disease and war inflicted on families in the mid-1800s on. You will see far too many deaths of young people. The diseases were as crippling as the wars, as this is when cholera, dysentery, and other mixed sewage/ drinking water-borne diseases hit many, especially in larger cities and impoverished rural areas around the world.

You will also find mysteries that cannot be solved. In both of our families, we have a mysterious birth where the mother is not identifiable in the records. In my father’s family case, his mother’s mother is a mystery with only a father noted. This is likely due to one of two events – the father sired a child out-of-wedlock with someone the family disapproved of and the child was raised by a member of his family, in this case his teenage sister. Or, what I think happened, is the teenage sister was the actual mother after having an encounter with a young man, and the older brother’s name was posted as father to mask the public awareness of the true mother and the unfortunate shame that goes with that.

On my wife’s side, two similar stories occurred. Her mother’s mother was adopted. Yet, the adoption masks the true story that the grandmother was the child of young man from a well-to-do family who loved the daughter of their housekeeper, whose name may or may not have been known.  The family of the father of the child would not let the son have anything to do with the child, so she was eventually adopted by someone who likely was helping out the real mother. My guess is the young mother and her family were likely very poor, so needed to give the baby up for adoption or the adopting family knew the young mother and wanted to help.

Going further back, we have learned my wife’s great great grandmother did not have a husband. She had tryst with an Englishman who remains the unknown father of my wife’s great grandfather. In fact, he was given her last name. She was banished from the house, but was allowed to live in a smaller house on the property. She was both independent and beloved.

My father was very silent on these issues and I wish he was still around to ask. He may not have even known the true story. My father was not very close nor did we spend any time with his true parents who divorced and moved far away from each other and him. We spent more time with the aunt (the teenage sister noted above) and her family who helped raise his mother and also raised him after his parents divorced. My wife’s family knows the gists of both stories about their grandmother and great great grandmother, but the names are not officially known, although come under speculation.

My guess is these kinds of mysteries or “ancestry holes” exist in more than a few families. So, be prepared as you go back in time for some mysteries, which may or may not be solvable. If you do go back, middle names or initials are most helpful, as well as places where they lived or were born. Happy hunting.

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10 thoughts on “Ancestry Holes

  1. I have been doing genealogy for over 30 years, and everything you say is so true. I read one time, if you are afraid of skeletons, stay out of the family closets. I become obsessed way too easily with the research, so I have a rule for myself; when I reach the point I am spending more time in the past than the present, I have to put it aside for a while. Great post!

    • VG, thanks. That is an excellent rule of thumb. While the skeletons are there, the stories reveal people’s character. All three women became matriarchs of their families and were tough as nails, especially in times of being ostracized by others for their indiscretions. Also, supporting angels can be found. Thanks for your comments. BTG

      • Oh, I get it! More complicated relationships than I ever imagined possible, women who threw caution to the wind more than once, strength any man would envy, thieves, murderers, good guys, bad guys…all part of the tapestry we call family. I get started researching and seriously love these people more with each new thing I learn.

  2. There are several cases on my father’s side of the family of “child swapping.” Only a few of us can untangle who is who. I imagine that 100 years from now, anyone looking at the family tree will be mystified.The best story in my family is of a great great great grandfather being hung in Georgia for killing his wife and another man in a jealous rage. We’ve dug up newspaper stories about it.

    • Now, that is an interesting story about the hanging! The child swapping sounds like the TV show where mothers are switched. I like Valleygrail’s caution about being prepared for skeletons. My favorite part of this exercise are the email stories behind the information. My brother-in-laws like to embellish and on many an occasion, their older sister will say, that is not how it happened. I haven’t found a jealous murder yet. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I’ve spent many hours with Anchestry, but my tree has lost too many limbs. Not much was recorded other than in the family bible, which unfortunately was destroyed by an aunt looking for money when my grandfather died. Everything else was tossed in the dump, including hundreds of books, each with paper money between the pages. He didn’t trust banks, and she didn’t know where the real wealth lie.

    Great post, and I’m sure it must be fascinating to dig up the tree. Thanks for sharing your history

    • Interesting note about tossing the books that doubled as banks. That is a big whoops. My wife’s family house was burned up in a fire, so they lost family bibles, etc. So, we have had to rely on memories and tombstones to search with. The stories have been great, especially when embellished a little, as the case usually is. Thanks for your comments.

  4. I love ancestry.com and I got addicted like you did a few years ago. I have taken a break, but have recently wanted to start looking again. I made generations of progress in my January line that I never thought possible. I found out that the name comes from France and that my January ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. I would like to make that same progress in my grandmother’s Spanish line.

  5. Note to Readers: I noted above about my wife’s great great grandmother, who had a tryst and was banished to a smaller home on the property. Yet, her story is even murkier as we have two potential paths of families from whence she came, both related to each other. We have one reputable looking source which has her born out of one family as one of twelve – her name was somewhat unusual. This official looking document takes her line on down and it looks pretty complete. Yet, that does not make it 100% correct or complete, as it has some holes relative to first marriages, etc. and whose kids were whose.

    We have a will from the other side of the family, where her name appears as the granddaughter and her father had been murdered, which is not inconsistent with a tale that passed on down, but has been questioned by others. So, which story is correct?

    The possibility exists they may both be right, so more digging is needed to find a more complete answer. One possibility is the larger family adopted her and her sister after the murder. The murder may or may not have been around a property dispute, and one story has the mother moving away. So, there is a big I don’t know that may never be resolved. We will be asking the last two living members of my wife’s mother’s siblings to see if they have any stories.

    Yet, I would encourage you to ask questions of older relatives now, so that it can explain your history better. The records become less complete as you go back in time, especially when the census just counted heads rather than all names in the household.

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