The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family

The following exceprt is from a story by James Chilton in the October 13, 2013 dition of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Goodness… Some story…

CHEYENNE [Wyoming] — Growing up in California, Suzanne Handler never knew her aunt.

In fact, until she was 50, Handler didn’t even know she had an aunt.

But once she found out, she tried to learn more. What she discovered was a hidden shame that her mother and uncles had been hiding for decades.

“It was a secret in the family,” Handler said. “I never knew, and my cousins never knew, that my mother had a sister and that my grandfather shot and killed her.”

Handler’s search for the truth is now chronicled in a book, “The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family.”

The book was released last year, but it was only this past month that Handler’s quest to honor her aunt’s memory finally came to a conclusion.

Read the full article.

Got Black Sheep?

Ron Arons - doing a black sheep dance
Ron Arons – doing a black sheep dance

I get to see my friend, Ron Arons, at many of the genealogy conferences, as he often shows up (in costume?), and tells us about his nefarious ancestors. A few years back, Ron wrote an excellent book about The Jews of Sing-Sing. That got him started as being the go-to guy when one wanted information on researching one’s black sheep ancestors. Ron later wrote another volume entitled Wanted! US Criminal Records. WANTED! lists archives, libraries, courts and online sites containing numerous sets of criminal information. In this 388-page reference book, you get examples of documents you can find online and in repositories across the country. The book includes a primer on how to conduct genealogical research on criminals, including various tips learned from Ron’s vast experience in the field – as well as the jail, the prison, and the local police precinct…

Chances Are, You’ll Find a Skeleton in the Closet

The following excerpt is from aa article by Sue Shellenbarger, posted in the January 15, 2013 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Amateur genealogists, beware. Researching your ancestry doesn’t always turn up heroes and royalty. It may turn up a felon, a bigamist or another unsavory character.

New York filmmaker Heather Quinlan found more than a few skeletons when digging into her ancestors’ closet. Among them: Thomas Fagan, her grandmother’s great-grandfather, who had killed a man during a drunken bar fight in 1868 (reportedly hitting him over the head with a chair in self-defense).

She also turned up evidence of a murderous feud—set off by a scandalous elopement—that had engulfed her grandfather’s ancestors in the 1830s. One forebear was hanged for the killings, but others, including her fourth great-grandfather, escaped after the jailer forgot to lock the cells. “It was like the Hatfields and McCoys meet Romeo and Juliet, with a touch of ‘Mayberry R.F.D.’ thrown in,” Ms. Quinlan says.

Read the full article.

Shaking Out the Family Skeletons Might Save Your Life

There’s an interesting blog titled “Family skeletons detrimental to healing” posted on the ScienceBlog website that set me to thinking… Genealogists seem to love to drag out the family skeletons. Good old adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, and even a murder now and then all seems to get the true genealogist all fired up to find more of these “black sheep” in the family. One of my most popular lectures is called The “X-files,” and deals with family scandals. I get mine out and rattle them around a bit. I start the lecture with a cartoon that I call the Meitzler Family. It shows one lonely white sheep in the midst of an entire flock of black ones. That’s my family, and I’m proud of it. Based on the latest research on the subject, I should handle disease well – and live a long happy life. The following is a teaser from the ScienceBlog.

Family secrets such as alcoholism, abuse and unwanted pregnancies are quite common and an obstacle to healing when disease strikes, skeletonsaccording to Marie-Dominique Beaulieu, a professor at the Université de Montréal’s Department of Family Medicine.

“I see it in my practice,” says Beaulieu, who also holds the Dr. Sadok Besrour Family Medicine Research Chair. “Family secrets lead to feelings of guilt, anger and helplessness. These feelings have a considerable impact on health, specifically on the capacity to adapt and find a balance in times of disease.”

American actor Jack Nicholson discovered in the newspaper that his maternal grandmother was, in fact, his mother and that his mother was in reality his sister. Not everyone carries such dramatic secrets, yet difficult family situations are quite commonplace.

Read the full blog.