Karla News

Genealogy Research: Trace Black Sheep Ancestors


My great aunt was the oldest-living relative on my father’s side of the family, so I assumed she would be a wealth of handed-down stories. Quite the character, she had been married three times (Two of her husbands committed suicide). Aunt Jane, age 86, still wore all three bands on her wedding ring finger. When I asked her about the past, she told me, “It’s none of your business.”

Her younger sister, Pearl, age 82, was tons more cooperative. She insinuated there were a few skeletons buried, as to the vagueness of her sister’s answers. “Don’t you worry none about that old thing. She thinks everyone is after her money. I’ve got everything you need to know written down- let me get it.”

My genealogist blood started racing, knowing I had hit the mother lode. Expecting her to bring out a gilded ancestry royalty chart recording my line back to A.D. 347. Aunt Pearl, RIP, brought in a clear sandwich bag with a small brown paper sack sealed inside. Years previous, her mother had written down all she knew of the family history on this brown paper bag and Pearl treasured it as it were gold.

Aunt Pearl eyed all my notebooks, taken everywhere with me, crammed with notes taken since I first got bitten by the genealogy bug at age sixteen during a high school project. She asked me seriously, “My brother, Moat, was killed on a fishing trip. Is there anyway you could find out the truth as to what really happened to him?’

A good source for criminal records, scandals and general mayhem in the South is the Georgia Black Book: Morbid, Macabre, & sometimes disgusting records of genealogical value. Not to be overlooked- Get Grandpa’s FBI File.com for the wicked and the wayward branches of your family tree.

From 1717 to 1775: Fifty thousand English convicts chose deportation to the colonies for seven years rather than hang. You must give the prisoners some slack, convictions could be over stealing sheep, cutting down trees without permission, sending threatening letters or merely standing mute in front of ones ‘betters.’

U.S. District and Circuit Court Records are held at the National Archives. www.archives.gov

These prison and court records give practically a biography of the infamous and their executions. Listed on the court documents: prisoner’s name, age, physical characteristics, county where convicted, occupation, state where born, crime, when received, date sentence expired, remarks.

Local folklore tells of witches being responsible for destroying crops by summoning huge winds. Witches were often hung for crop failure along with many other hysterically reported crimes. Mothers and daughters who were known to be slightly off kilter were often seen as a threat and used as scapegoats. Associated Daughters of Early American Witches is an organization whose purpose is to search for and preserve the names of those accused of witchcraft. They aim to locate all living descendants of the approved ancestors list posted on their website.

My Dad’s great grandmother, Sarah, died in the insane asylum at Milledgeville, Georgia. It is highly likely she suffered from postpartum depression. She was married at age thirteen and gave birth to fifteen children before her husband signed commitment papers.

Not to leave my mother’s side out- her grandmother, who always spoke in rhymes, was committed to the Elgin State Hospital Sanitarium. My mother said it was rumored, Christina, lost her mind after her husband divorced her. This happened when my mother was a child. She said one day, a nice man who lived in the neighborhood, stopped and said hello to her. Her mother forbid her to ever speak to him again. She later learned that was her grandfather.

In the 1800s, you could be institutionalized for disobeying your husband or father, alcoholism, depression, or even anger. Women going through menopause, people caught masturbating, or just going against the ‘grain’ of polite society could get you labeled and locked away.

Blacksheep Ancestors has valuable resources for researching the unfortunate misfits who found themselves categorized as deformed, idiot, imbecile, or insane and shunned from the ‘normal.’. There is an International Blacksheep Society of Genealogist for our relations across the pond.

It’s always been important to me – to find the names and connection of long lost ancestors, the scoundrels and the saints. For remembrance and respect of their survival and contribution to the life we share today.