The delving into family history isn’t for the faint hearted, so if you are determined to search into the past you need to be prepared because what you find might not be exactly what you want to learn. While we might all like to be descended from Royalty or a President or a National Hero, it just isn’t possible. Most of us at some time, will find an ancestor that we may not want to shout about from the rooftops.
Depending on what your family moral values were, the black sheep ancestor may have been an actual criminal, or the first one in the family who didn’t attend college or who left home to join the circus. Some families aren’t anxious to talk about the miscreant or they may spin the story so that the ancestor who was a “close acquaintance of Wyatt Earp” was called that because he was arrested on more than one occasion by the famous law man.
It is important to put events into context. You need to take a look at the history of the area in the time period of your ancestor. Life was very different 100 or more years ago. A criminal who was hung or was shipped out of England on a prison ship bound for Australia may have been guilty of stealing bread to feed a starving family or simply disagreeing with the King.
The advantage of a “black sheep ancestor” is that they usually leave findable records, which are often found often in newspapers – sometimes in the headlines. While putting together a family for someone, I found a son who, when he and a cousin left their home town and went to the “city” decided to forge some checks. The fact that they were cousins was mentioned in the newspaper article detailing their crime spree – giving another clue to family.
Court records are also a good source. These are public records, and are found in the court house in the area where your ancestor lived. While early records may have been filmed, later court records may need to be searched in the locality where they were recorded. If you are distant from the location you need to search, try contacting a local historical society for advice on how to get the needed records. A website called Black Sheep Ancestors can give you additional clues about where you might search for records. It is www.blacksheepancestors.com
Remember, you can accept who your ancestors were and still not be proud of what they did. After all your ancestors may have some questions about you as a descendant, and those “errant” family members can actually be the most interesting. Accept the fact that your ancestors weren’t perfect and be glad that you finally have some ancestors who have documentation. Remember those traits that they used in an unacceptable way may be the traits that are strengths in your life.