52 Ancestors – #50 – "Naughty" Ancestors Are the Most Fun!!

The blog prompt for Week # 26 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks was “Black Sheep.” I wrote about Scott’s great-grandmother, Catherine Seeley Fitzallen that week. She was most decidedly a “black ewe”, quite naughty and quite the character! As part of that post, I included the first chapter of the book I was writing about Catherine’s adult life.

I am pleased to announce I have FINALLY finished that project!! I spent more than three years tracking down information and “following” Catherine from New Canaan, CT to Albany, NY to Kansas, Missouri, and finally Chicago, Illinois.

So excited to see the finished product!
Available at lulu.com

I learned so much throughout the process of writing this book. Perhaps the most important “take away” was realizing how important it is to look beyond the facts of a person’s life. Some people simply add relatives to their tree – names and a few dates of vital events. As I have mentioned, probably numerous times, I prefer to look at the person’s entire life – who were they really? Most times the story is uneventful – birth, marriage, work life, death. But then, there are those relatives whose lives were a bit more colorful. Okay, maybe even criminal. Should I tell that story?

I struggled with that question in my post, Is Insanity Hereditary?  Whether to tell the stories of our “naughty” ancestors is hotly debated in the genealogy community. We are always thrilled to take credit for the positive contributions of our ancestors – sometimes as if we accomplished the “good deed” ourselves. But… those “bad deeds.” Sweep it under the rug. Keep those skeletons in the closet.

It doesn’t really make sense to me. Or even seem fair. If we take credit for the “good” our ancestors did, shouldn’t we also take credit for the bad? Maybe that’s where the concept of reparations comes from. (Stay tuned to this blog for my next project – the story of my great-grandfather’s struggle to get reparations for the loss of his business when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.)

Obviously, living descendants should be considered when sharing some stories. Divulging the fact that “Uncle Xavier” had a mistress might result in serious implications, especially if there was a child involved. (Example given is only for descriptive purposes. I don’t think we even have an Uncle Xavier!)

I became involved with family history because I wanted my children and their descendants to know who we are. Knowing where you come from can help a person feel connected. Years ago, when I taught genealogy to my high school students, I saw “the lights go on” as they discovered parallels between their ancestors’ lives and their own.  However, it’s more than just knowing you are 75% this or 35% that. It’s the things people did, the choices they made – WHO THEY WERE – that can help us understand WHO WE ARE.  (Have you noticed the name of this blog??) Yes – they may have made some bad choices. We can learn from that. Especially if their bad choices negatively affected our own lives. But, here’s the thing- those were their choices. What my ancestors chose to do was a reflection on them, not me. How I choose to interpret their choices and how I allow their choices to affect me, is on me

So, I will continue to chronicle our history, as compassionately as possible. From what I’ve experienced our “naughty” ancestors have the best stories.


Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the Week 50 blog prompt “Naughty.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s