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.