Everyone who undertakes the hobby of genealogy is bound to run into something surprising once in a while. Things that might have been scandalous at the time become fascinating a hundred years or so later.
One of the first surprises for me was that my mother’s great-grandfather, John Cook, was illegitimate. The family lore is that his mother had a long-time affair and all her children have the same father. I have DNA from my great-aunt, John’s grand-daughter, and Y-DNA from my mom’s brother. I hope at some point this will lead me to the identity of Frances Cook’s paramour. John came to a bad end in a shootout, as did one of his sons. I wonder if his mother had married and he’d grown up with a father, would he have led a more upstanding life.
Another early shock was learning that my dad’s parents were second cousins, connected by common ancestor Joseph Harvell Givens. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; we are from the South.
Without going into too much detail and embarrassing living family members, I found out that a not-so-distant relative I was researching served time in prison for incest. How I would love to find an arrest report or court records for that case to learn more of the story. Alas, I have been unsuccessful there.
I have been saddened by stories of unexpected deaths and suicides. I have also been uplifted by the love that kept families together or even created a new hybrid family in the wake of tragedies. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a college named after one branch of the family and a park named after another.
Perhaps, though, I’m most shocked by learning how quickly families can lose track of one another. Just a couple of generations and surnames are lost, until someone starts building a family tree and begins digging into the records.
My dad said that his father had talked about someone called Grandpa Loper. I knew his family name was Hahn, so I assumed that I was looking for a man named Loper Hahn. Now I know that William F. Hahn married Ary Loper, and Grandpa Loper was William Loper, her brother. No one seems to know the names of William F. Hahn’s parents in Germany.
My mother didn’t know that she had a maternal great-grandmother named Thompson, and when I was growing up, she never talked about the fact that her paternal grandparents divorced and her grandfather remarried, at least for a short time. I found a divorce record for his second wife but not a marriage record, and I don’t know her maiden name.
I must admit, I haven’t done much to keep family together. I almost never call any of the extended family. My mom keeps in touch with her cousins and some of my dad’s family. I sometimes give her questions to ask. I have made contact with several distant relatives on both sides of my family and my husband’s family, through family tree research and DNA matches. I should make some attempt to collect email addresses and physical addresses and send Christmas cards or newsletters. There never seems to be enough time in the day. Ultimately, I’m sure time, distance, and expense of postage are what caused those distant cousins to be lost in the first place.