Family Skeletons: Don’t get spooked!

Family Skeletons: Don’t get spooked!

Are there any skeletons in your family’s closet?

If you dig back far enough into your family tree, you are likely to uncover something scandalous. This Halloween, we thought we’d share two of our blog’s most frightful tales:

Imagine the horror of discovering that your great-grandfather was married to two women at the same time! Read how genealogist W. Scott Fisher coped with a less-than-favorable newspaper headline about his great-grandfather.

And what if the secret involves murder? If you dare, read the blood-curdling tale of Jane Maria Clouson who was murdered by her ex-lover and son of her employer, Edmund Walter Pook. Find out how John Hancock of London embarked on a journey to uncover the full story behind his ancestor’s murder.

What may be a ghastly story for some, may be just the thing to spark an interest in family history and genealogy for others. If these tales have piqued your interest in investigating your own family’s scandals, we’ve got a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you go over to the dark side.

Tips for Researching Family Secrets

1. Go to the source. First, you’ll want to interview family members who may have more information. Perhaps you remember hearing bits and pieces from a great-aunt or a third cousin in hushed tones. Prepare your questions in a way that is both respectful, but also investigative.

2. Don’t believe everything you hear. When it comes to family secrets, you’ll want to make sure that the story hasn’t been embellished by each generation. Sometimes people may present a version of the truth that may not be based on all the facts.

3. Get the facts straight. Look up birth, death, marriage and, if necessary, court records of the persons involved. These may provide the evidence you need to confirm or debunk the long-standing family gossip. Make sure to look at our historical collections in SuperSearch™.

4. Be patient. Genealogy is a never-ending process. Don’t become frustrated if you don’t find what you’re looking for in a particular set of records or if you haven’t made a breakthrough for a while. You never know where the next lead will come from. Even the smallest detail may lead to exciting new directions.

5. Don’t judge your ancestors too harshly. Times were different, and they must have had reasons for living the lives they did.

6. Take time to adjust to what you find. Sometimes the family secret may seem overwhelming even if it happened many generations ago. Allow yourself space and time to accept that the past does not determine your family’s future.

If you do discover any family skeletons that you dare to share, please let us know in the comments below!


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  • Cathy Walters

    October 31, 2018

    I am the skeleton that DNA brought out of the closet : )

    • Talya

      November 1, 2018

      Hi Cathy, we’d love to hear about your story!

  • June

    March 15, 2019

    While searching by the surname of my 2nd cousin twice removed’s husband, I came across the story of the trial and sentencing of her husband’s brother (Matt Baldes) for murder of his wife Mary. He might have gotten away with it but the wife’s brother-in-law became suspicious, knowing of Matt’s temper. That brother-in-law interrupted the rushed funeral with a demand that the cause of death be investigated. Matt & Mary’s youngest children (age about 10 & 12) witnessed the beating, choking, and her final fall. The lengthy descriptive account is as brutal as our worst cases of abuse: history of attempt to send him to alcohol treatment which he got out of by promising to do better, wife refusing to move out and stay with friends…. Carroll (Iowa) Herald October 25, 1905, p 6, col 3. Mention of the income Matt received from sale of his possessions which “ought to buy him a pretty good defense” in Alton Democrat November 18, 1905 p 1,col 5. Article on trial & sentencing for life in Ireton Weekly Ledger [Sioux County, IA], Dec 15, 1905, p.1 col 1, and results of a Supreme Court appeal in Carroll Herald February 13, 1907. p1 col 7. County notice of fees paid for transporting prisoners, witnesses, subpoenas, boarding prisoners, mentioning more family members in Hawarden Independent, January 18, 1906. Finally, 1920 US Census, Fairview twp, Jones, IA, ED 67, sheet 1A shows him still in the Men’s State Reformatory.

  • Lori Faulk

    April 10, 2019

    Just in the last couple of years my brother and I were sharing various family documents and paperwork each of us had collected over the years. Our father was married four times, his fourth wife thought she was number three… highly, highly doubtful she would have married him had she known that she was his fourth wife. She was my second stepmother and she and my Dad were married supposedly the same week his divorce from wife three was final. Somehow my brother in his papers has what is either a fax or something similair to a telegram from his attorney on the east coast(we were now on the west coast) telling him yes that my father was legally divorced on such and such a day and it had an actual time. As I sat there looking at it; I remembered I thought they were so tacky anyway(I was a rebellious teen by then) because they used to joke how the very minute the divorce was final they were getting married but I noted the date and time and oh how I laughed, they got married the day before the day the divorce was legally final…… does that mean his marriage to number four was actually not valid and they lived in sin so to speak for thirty years? did that make my dad a bigamist we know the date they married my brothers and I were there and it was the day before that telegram says the divorce was final. Good thing my father and his wife have been deceased since 2004, my stepmother would have been horrified, it would of been a fiasco of that I am sure. I found it a beauty of a skeletal find LOL. Also when I first started a tree (dad had already died) I found out I had a half-sister 22 years older than I am from my fathers first marriage. My brothers and I knew about his first wife but no clue they had one child who is still living today I am 60 she is 82. and we have spoken. My mother was his second wife, but story had it my dad and his girl eloped in 1938 and her parents were horrified and wouldn’t stand for it, my father left going overseas never saw her again. Not so, my half sister knew about us, said she got cards and gifts from my father as she grew up,although her mother never saw or spoke to him, she had remarried a marriage that lasted many years. He would phone and talk to her as well but she did not spend time with him until she had a child of her own and that didn’t last. She even remembers meeting me when I was about five, shortly after that time she and our father had a falling out and they never spoke or saw each other again. I always thought I was his only daughter, he used to tell me I was……tsk tsk tsk Dad. That was quite a suprise for me and one of the best kept secrets ever and my father had a couple of them, not anything really bad but more scandalous when they occurred because things were different when he grew up..he was born in 1918. Its been wonderful building my tree, I have found incredible stories my grandfather my dads dad was a prominent attorney and who is who of the day in Yonkers, all kinds of old news stories about he and his family, he was for a time considered to be a world authority in the world of marathon running, he trained the relay teams the went to the Olympics in Germany when Jesse Owens took the world by suprise and Hitler was in power and he himself ran in the 1902 and the 1907 Boston Marathons where he came in the top ten in both runs. Amazing stuff, I love it.