Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When it is Difficult to do Family History

I am wondering about this subject because in the county where I live, tonight there is a little toddler who is someday going to find out, probably after he is grown, that his father was shot dead by his uncle.  This happened Monday night, and the killer shot not only his own brother, but the brother's friend and his own parents.  His parents survived and are now in the hospital; the other two did not.  At this hour, that uncle is still on the loose.  One of the places they think he is is in the state forest that our lot backs up to.  Not an event that will lead one to sleep very soundly, and I'm not.  So I am up wondering.

Black sheep can present a very thorny problem at times.  They can present family history investigators with a dilemma:  How does one  record this black sheep whose actions still cause pain in the family?  Or does one  even bother?  Would it not be better to just forget about that one?

While I can understand the motivation to sweep a really heinous black sheep under the rug, that is not the best policy.  At the very least, one would record the basic genealogical information.  If one does not want to go further than that, because of the pain this person has caused in the family, that is all right.  That is what I tell my audiences when I give my talk on black sheep.

On the other hand, if one does want to find out about a black sheep one has found out existed, perhaps a hundred or so years ago, where does one look?  Some state archives have prison records.  I've blogged here about the prison records at the Florida State Archives.  Like those in the Florida Archives, these records in other state archives are likely to be restricted in access.  For more current information, including those presently incarcerated, the State of Florida's bureau of prisons has a website with all the information on it.  Other states may have the same kind of information posted. 

Newspapers are a great place to look for information about a black sheep.  They make good copy.  Likewise, you may find out about an infamous ancestor in a local history.  And don't forget the censuses: prison populations are enumerated, too.

But tonight I wonder about that little baby, and what he is going to wonder about his father's fate, years from now.


Amy Coffin, MLIS said...

That is a very sad story about the little baby and his father.

There was a murder in my family's history, but it was in 1889, so I can look at it differently, with less emotion. I found out the whole story from newspapers, which let me to court minutes that included the names of the jurors. Both excellent sources of information.

Marti said...

I'm thinking the mother worked at the high school when we were there. Her name's *awfully* familiar.

Karen said...

Thanks for a very interesting post - this addresses a situation I've been grappling with for months, stemming from an incident 4 generations ago. Research? Don't research? Research and keep it to myself? Younger generations want to know, but the older ones don't even want to acknowledge it happened, and both positions are valid. This incident profoundly shaped the family, so it's significant to our history. Perhaps it's a project to be quietly tackled in 10 years or so.