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Who’s Hiding in Your Family Tree?

Published on Thu, 03/07/2019 - 07:38am
man in bushes

Because my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, they looked at things from a different perspective. So perhaps I heard twice the stories that “normal”-aged parents would have shared. Both had good memories and were close to their families; information about the family history was shared frequently, and I knew every single one of my first cousins.

After my dad died, I had a deep curiosity to know what happened to the children of the four brothers of his father, my grandfather, so I decided to research them. I knew about a few of my dad’s first cousins because my dad, through the years, had maintained contact with them, at least at Christmastime. In checking out who was born to his Uncle William, I discovered one cousin named Morris that I had never heard my dad mention, which surprised me greatly. As I searched, I discovered that Morris was one of those black sheep with much to be said about his doings, especially in newspapers, and maybe that was why my dad never mentioned him. It was one of those embarrassing family stories that was kept hush-hush.

The first newspaper stories I saw in Chronicling America astonished me. I found Missouri and Iowa newspaper pieces that reported Morris, at a young age, had already done time for forgery in Nebraska. I found out that he had later embezzled money and even been tracked by the Pinkerton Agency. Oh goody, I thought, we have Pinkerton microfilm records here at MGC! But perhaps Morris wasn’t considered hardcore enough to make the cut for the microfilmed records, because he was not cited in our MGC Pinkerton files on microfilm.

I recently found two more Iowa prison instances for him in Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only). He also spent some time in the Missouri State Penitentiary. Those records can be found in Missouri Digital Heritage or in our microfilm collection, Missouri Penitentiary Records, pages three to five. He had four incarcerations before the age of 30―oh my!

Here at MGC, we have a number of books about penitentiaries listed in our online catalog, which may help clarify the prison scene for any of your ancestors who were in a likewise position. Sometimes researching your family tree brings out surprises that you don’t expect. Ancestors with a checkered past are “blessed” with more documents than most. 

Perhaps you have some hidden in your branches!

Twila R.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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