Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Notorious Mr. Brown!

I loved the latest episode of Who Do You Think You Are because I can really relate to notorious ancestors. Edie Falco's mysterious "Mr. Brown" turned out to be her great-great-grandfather and a bit of a rogue. Eventually we all find  skeletons in our closets and they make family history so much more fun! For example, for every person I know who wants to trace his family back to the Mayflower, I know two others who want to join the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches. Which, by the way, is by invitation only and honors those women who were falsely accused of witchcraft.

You probably noticed that C.C.Brown was not all that hard to find. This is one of the main reasons to love your notorious ancestors. They seem to make a lot of records, and for this reason, you don't have to go looking for these skeletons; they will find you.  It's the prim and proper relatives that are so difficult to locate. Perhaps they should have made a few waves in their day!

First of all let me say that I am in no way advocating digging up skeletons that will cause embarrassment or grief to people living today. No where does it say that you have to publish every single piece of information you find. And, never publish any information about any living person without his or her permission.

So how do you know these rascals are lurking in the shadows of your research notes? There are tell tale signs. I have yet to find one single bad apple in my father's family and I probably never will. Even if I did, I would absolutely keep it to myself and deposit a well placed note within that family's files for future generations. That is known as genealogically passing the buck! My mother's family, on the other hand, is delightfully loaded!! And, even better, the whole family knows it and talks about it. As a result I  always pay attention to these little signs when researching my mom's family: rumors, family feuds, disappearance of a relative, and untimely death, to name just a few.

Rumors, family folklore, and legends almost always have have a base that contains a sliver of truth. I have noticed that many times one person will get labeled with a story when it actually describes more than one person. For example, family folklore says that my great-grandfather grew up in an orphanage in Alsace Lorraine. His mother was a nun and his father was a priest. He had fiery red hair! He left the Catholic Church because the priest stole his inheritance. How's that for embellishment? Now let's take this apart.

First of all, my mom and all my aunts had red hair, so I would say it is safe to assume that someone in the family was a redhead. Next, several censuses confirm that Alsace could be my great-grandfather's birth place, with a couple of Baden-Baden's thrown in. Records in Wood County, Ohio, indicate that my he belonged to a Catholic church in Custer, Ohio, so apparently he did not leave the church and the priest did not steal his inheritance. However, after my great-grandmother died, he distributed his children among friends, neighbors and an orphanage. There's your orphanage! As for the inheritance, I have a feeling that my grandfather's inheritance went with him when he was given to another family. That is yet to be proven. That leaves the priest and nun as parents. My educated guess is that was an embellishment that resulted from my mom's family being Lutheran and not having a lot of love for Catholics. (Remember this was the 1940' and 1950's when these tales were woven.) According to my mom's sisters, all children who lived in orphanages had at least a nun or a priest for a parent. How far we have come today! As you can see there were several people involved in this great old family legend. By the way, I never told my aunts they were wrong!

The death of a parent can bring out the worst in siblings. If you are going to have a family feud, this is where it probably originated. This was the case in my mom's family and it caused a life long split between her sisters and brothers. Sadly, I have recently discovered the reason for this battle and I have to admit it was cruel. All evidence of what happened has been destroyed and there will be no well-placed note in a family file.

Do you have an ancestor who just dropped off the face of the earth? Blame history or the weather report. Although some people just wandered around, the rest were probably driven to move by an event beyond their control. War, drought, floods result in destruction of lives. Others may have been lured by the promise of owning their own land. Make a timeline for people who have come up missing in the census. It is a great way to see what was going on locally and nationally that might have uprooted your ancestor.

In the case of your Cousin Susannah who ran a boarding house, take a really long good look at the boarders. You will eventually figure it out! It's not a boarding house nor is it a girl's school!

Edie Falco has amazing  ancestors with great stories from C. C. Brown, the notorious newspaper editor, to his mother, Sister Catherine Brown, who was born at sea. And, did you notice how comfortable Edie looked on that ship -- must be in her blood.

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