Black sheep in your family tree

Some people hesitate to begin searching their family history out of fear they may uncover embarrassing information. Others relish finding stories about scandals and scamps. 

Maybe this is “Black Sheep” week? Yesterday my copy of Minnesota Genealogist (published by the Minnesota Genealogical Society) arrived in the mail. In their introduction to the Summer 2017 issue, MGS co-managing editors said,

If the search is far and wide enough, most families have “black sheep” grazing in their family history pasture.

The first article from that issue, written by Zoe von Ende Lappin, was about her family member who was either a “black sheep or misunderstood wanderer.” As is often the case, the family concludes they “will probably never know the whole story.”

This morning I saw Dick Eastman’s blog with his Root Tech 2017 comments about black sheep: Blog readers added fascinating tales of their own. Everyone enjoys reading about unusual, out-of-the-ordinary folks (at least if they’re related to someone else).

Here are just a few resources to help flesh out the stories of black sheep in your family tree:

1. Crista Cowan – an Ancestry employee known as The Barefoot Genealogist – describes prison, convict and criminal records in this YouTube presentation. There are also several other YouTube videos on the subject of black sheep.

2. A FamilySearch blog posting provides lot of ideas about where to look for details:

3. Findmypast and other subscription services have various prison/legal/court records. Note: Today Findmypast added records from “England and Wales, Crime, Prisons and Punishment, 1770-1935″:

4. Often you’ll find newspaper accounts – and more coverage than about “regular” people and events – because of the provocative nature of the crimes.

If you are successful in finding a black sheep, you may even qualify for membership in the International Blacksheep Society of Genealogists (IBSSG)! My own maternal grandfather is widely considered the black sheep in his (Dutch Reformed) family line but only because he failed to attend church regularly and refused to tithe. No IBSSG membership for me!



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