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Family Skeleton or Esteemed Ancestor?
Column published: 02 November 2006.
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Family Skeletons can truly be one of your most interesting finds in your quest for knowledge about your ancestors. Many family trees would be pretty dull without them. Personally, I find the so-called black sheep and skeletons fascinating research. They are the ones with lots of character, color and adventures. They are the ones who will make people smile and say now there was a real individual. You know for sure that you are going to want to look some of them up in eternity and give them a hug.

I find that people usually get a little more interested in their family skeletons when they get ready to publish their family histories. If we are going to publish our family histories we should want them to be complete histories with all the glories and all the warts.

We have to realize that our ancestors were not perfect. They, like us, were only human. We need to understand that viewed with the comfort of time and distance, many things that were unacceptable during the time our ancestors lived are really not very serious indiscretions. We have to also accept the fact that many of our ancestors were yesterday's radicals.
As genealogists, we need to understand that we are to find the facts and not be judgmental. When we tend to get just a little judgmental we need to stop and imagine how our descendants may view our lives and us.

I love the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes who said "We are all omnibuses in which our ancestors ride, and every now and then one of them sticks his head out and embarrasses us."

If we ourselves don't want to be a skeleton in someone's closet, we should plan to live so the preacher won't have to lie at our funeral!

If you are one of those unfortunates who have only "paragons of virtue" in your to some of the rest of us. Perhaps we can loan you some of our more colorful ancestors.

A studio photograph of Tasmanian<br> convict Bill Thompson, showing<br> the convict uniform and the use of leg irons. Dated 1870s.
A studio photograph of Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson, showing the convict uniform and the use of leg irons. Dated 1870s.
Shirley Hodges

To read back issues of Shirley Hodges' articles, visit her biography & archived Articles

Suggested reading:
  • BOOK - Help! There Is A Skeleton In My Closet, A Study of Ethics For The Genealogist. Doris Bourrie
  • ARTICLE - A Skeleton in a Tree. If you think that you have looked everywhere for your 'missing' ancestor, there may still be places that you missed!
Suggested Web pages:
  • The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London, England 1674 to 1834 ( free ) The Old Bailey Proceedings Online A fully searchable online edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing accounts of over 100,000 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court 1674 to 1834.
  • The Equity Pleadings Database ( free ) The National Archives - UK A rich source of information for many aspects of historical study, particularly legal, social and economic history as well as genealogical sources. Discover manorial, domestic and trading disputes, disputes over land purchase, apprenticeship agreements and much more. The Equity Pleadings was a system of justice based on conscience, rather than on the strict rules of common law.
  • Ireland-Australia transportation database ( free ) National Archives of Ireland The National Archives of Ireland holds a wide range of records relating to transportation of convicts from Ireland to Australia covering the period 1788 to 1868. In some cases these include records of members of convicts' families transported as free settlers.
  • Judgements of The Supreme Court of Canada With some exceptions from between 1985 and 1988, the collection includes all judgments rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada since 1985. It also includes all judgments pertaining to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms rendered in 1983 and 1984.
  • Nova Scotia Court of Appeal Casebooks 1890-1947 ( free) Gov. of Nova Scotia
    Forms part of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal fonds; search for the appellant and/or respondent in appeal cases heard between 1890 and 1947.
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The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)