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.