Sometimes when I’m really, really into researching a certain family or line I’ll realize that I am holding a grudge against a family member. Not sure what I mean? Here are two examples:
My 3rd Great-Grandfather Lightner West was killed in the Civil War. He left behind a widow, Sarah Elizabeth Moore West, and an infant son, Lightner Leander West, who he probably never met. Several years later, Sarah Moore West remarried to John Whitmire. In the 1870 census, she’s shown living with her husband John and her son “Lightner Whitmire.” For some reason, my first reaction was “Aw hell nah. That’s Lighter WEST.” Even though I know that a.) there’s no telling who gave that information to the census taker b.) nobody needed to be all up in their private business – I was miffed. I haven’t really researched Sarah Moore since then.
Yes, I have an irrational genealogical grudge against a war widow. Oops.
But my great-grandfathers aren’t immune, either. In the 1830 census, my ancestor William Cowen is shown as owning 10 slaves. So basically he had shown up from County Antrim, Northern Ireland in about 1820 and as soon as possible bought 10 slaves. Nice, Grandpa. Really nice.
As I was researching him, I noticed that in 1840 all of his slaves were gone. Mean little me thought, “So where are your slaves now, grandpa? Bought a few too many slaves for your britches, eh?” Of course, this was 1830 in South Carolina and – as abhorrent as it has always been – slave ownership was a fact of some people’s lives at that time. For all I know, William Cowen didn’t mismanage his estate, he had a change of heart. (Likely not, but you never know.) It’s silly to hold a grudge against him, too.
So, am I the only one to get miffed at my ancestors? Am I a little *too* into this? Tell me in the comments!
Post Update: Strangely enough, right after I wrote this, I came across this food for thought. Good point!
Also, this is my 30th blog post here at Jennealogy. Thanks for bearing with me and… Happy Detecting!
6 thoughts on “Genealogy Oddities: Irrational Grudges Against Ancestors”
If I knew anything about my ancestors, this would surely happen. I suspect my paternal grandfather (died before I was born) was a huge jerk. Not exactly historical though.
Nat, I actually know that some of my ancestors were jerks (not too many of them, thankfully) and I’m pretty much fine with those guys. It’s weird how our brains work! At least I know this is irrational!
I read history books and a lot of biographical books. The one thing I keep telling myself and others is not to judge by todays standards the actions or thoughts of others in history. I would hope someone 100 or 150 years from now will do the same for us.
Oh, I totally agree with you there. I have a history degree so I’ve read about all kinds of atrocities done in the name of science. (I’ve even heavily studied Eugenics – one of the most recent historical incidences of people doing evil when they think they’re doing good) BUT I guess that’s why this is irrational. I know it’s irrational, but I feel it anyway!
I understand you on this topic. I guess the problem is that I really don’t know the whole truth about that person’s life and never will. So, meanwhile, I keep looking for those little ‘redeeming’ squares of their life’s patchwork quilt in the hopes of getting a more balanced picture.
You make a great point. I really shouldn’t let this bad detail make me not work on that ancestor as much as I should. I guess that’s why this is “irrational”! Good for you for chipping away, Chips 🙂