Black Sheep Categories - "Extreme Public Embarrassment"

+11 votes
Hi, the recent discussion about Black Sheep ancestors has been excellent.  Hopefully this has stoked your interest in the Black Sheep project - come join us if so!!

You may be aware that one kind of black sheep according to the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists is a person who causes "Extreme Public Embarrassment".   We do not have  category on Wikitree yet for this kind of behaviour nor is there an accepted definition.

We came across a profile of a woman who was categorised as a black sheep but all she had done was deliberately have a large family of children out of wedlock at a time when such behaviour was considered antisocial.  This woman would not have been a black sheep by today's standards but she probably did cause "extreme public embarrassment" to her family when they were all alive 150 years ago.

We were thinking about some categories for these profiles.  One idea would be to have a topline category "Extreme Public Embarrassment" and then have a sub-category "Former Black Sheep".  The woman I described would be categorised as "Former Black Sheep".  A politician, for example, who had lots of affairs and was splashed across a newspaper would be categorised as "Extreme Public Embarrassment" since this is something that would still be embarrassing today.   

What do you think?   Is there even a place for "Extreme Public Embarrassment" as a category and, if so, what definition or attributes should it have?  And what do you think about the idea of "Former Black Sheep" as a sub-category?
in Policy and Style by Living Hoolihan G2G6 Mach 5 (56.6k points)
Embarrassment and shame are dependent on the culture and time one lives in - as far as extreme or not anyway.  I've come across quite a few but have decided each had his own issues to deal with in his own time.  Who are we to judge.  But don't we love them anyway when they fall off the wagon?

PS I love this topic though and have a special one to share.
Since I am the black sheep in my family, I wont go into details, I don't feel it is right to have this catagory. It makes me feel bad.
Hello Corinne,Perhaps from your point of view it does seem a little harsh but when considering ancestors it is usually long ago history. No need to feel bad. Much better to put your black sheep history behind you and become a brand new white sheep!

Kind thoughts for a happy new and exciting future.

- Gilly
I'd hate to see what they write on my profile after I'm gone
You make a very good point Corinne. I suspect you're not the only one thinking that!
Goodness Corinne, I'd love to hear the story behind you post. ;-)

I could be categorized as an unrepentant, incorrageble black sheep by my adopted mother. Fortunately, my parents adopted me back as an adult & they think I'm wonderful.  My hope is that this project will, in some small way contribute to a better society - if only by teaching people to keep their private business private. Seventy years from now, a whole lot of decendents will be posting source citations for the Jerry Springer, Steve Wilco, Bill Cunningham, Maury Povich, Divorce Court, People's Court, Paternity Court, Hot Bench and a host of other "publish your scandel to the world" television shows.  Perhaps a handful of folks will be deterred from discussing publically, or (gasp) refraining from behavior that is less than ideal.
Hi Corinne ...

To be called the black sheep can sometmes be a compliment. I too was given this label and I always felt horrible about it. Then one day after sharing my story with a very wise lady it was pointed out to me very plainly that actually "you are the white one in a flock of black".

Being the black sheep is sometimes a label that exists only in the perception of those you have learned what not to be like from.

Hold your head high :)

7 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer
It seems to me there are several issues here which are worth unpacking.  Even if it is decided that "extreme public embarrassment" is not a suitable subcategory, these thoughts would apply to any black sheep subcategory:

First is the question of "who is embarrassed?"  The answer I would think would be "contemporaries of the person."  That is, whether or not we ourselves are embarrassed is not an issue.  If a couple of lines are confirmed, I have Viking ancestry, and I would find some of their behavior -- sacking, pillaging and carrying off captured women -- quite embarrassing.  But that is not the issue.  

Second is the question of "who is misbehaving?"  It would be inconsistent with WikiTree's privacy policies of including anyone who is living, or probably the parents or even grandparents of living people.  

Third, however, is the question, of "how do we know?"  That is where the source documentation becomes important, especially on a genealogy site where biography is so important.  I would think that if you want to put an "extreme public embarrassment" label on someone, it would be because there is a contemporary source -- a newspaper article in the 1850's, a pamphlet extant in 1640, a poem by a bard in 1100, that proclaims the embarrassing status of the subject.  That would eliminate the subjectivity element.  Else you have Jack Day slapping the category on all his Vikings because their behavior offends Jack Day -- despite the fact that bards of the time wrote poems declaiming how wonderful they were!
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (388k points)
selected by Michele Britton
Well said, Jack.  To paraphrase a famous quote: Documentation, documentation, documentation!

I'm sure your pillaging Viking ancestors were considered 'the bomb' in their day when they returned to the clan with their booty. :-)
HaHa!   This reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw a few years ago.. It said " Remember...its pillage first, then burn!"
+15 votes
Sorry to be negative but it seems far too subjective to be useful unlike, say, criminal convictions.

It's also difficult to see users agreeing on what constitutes acceptable social behavior.
by Matthew Fletcher G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
It seems that the mores of a society are dictated by the time and place in which the profiled person lived. This is the same with any history project. People and events must be viewed and described within the context of their time and place.
+8 votes
The title "Extreme Public Embarrassment" is leading, and might actually perform that very act to some. I do not think it should be used. Just keep it at "Black Sheeps".
by John Beardsley G2G6 Mach 3 (39.6k points)
Hi, the only caveat is we do not want to categorise people as just "Black Sheep".  If they do not fit in the other categories then they should not be considered as a profile suitable for the project.
I believe that the category you're looking for is [[Category:Lost Sheep]]. It's a non-descript version of the Black Sheep project for folks who haven't been convicted of the crimes listed in other categories but did manage to get themselves into hot water with the rest of the family.

I suspect that a good number of these profiles could be quite humerous a couple of generations down the line. For example....I might make my great grandmother a Lost Sheep for distilling gin in her bathtub (truly bathtub gin) during Prohibition. She was never arrested as a bootlegger. Yet, the family was aware of her hobby.
+11 votes
Thank you for the thoughts so far.

My personal view is aligned with John's and Matthew's and we should not categorise people on the grounds of embarrassment as being something highly subjective.

Black Sheep project members - please shout out if you disagree - the reactions so far would suggest that a category linked to "embarrassment" is not something we want to use for the purposes of the Wikitree project.
by Living Hoolihan G2G6 Mach 5 (56.6k points)
+20 votes
If we have an "Extreme Public Embarrassment" category,  every parent in the U.S. would be nominated upon his or her children becomming teenagers.
by Michele Britton G2G6 Mach 1 (18.5k points)
:-D !!

Thanks for turning a sticky and uncomfortable topic much lighter Michele. Very nicely done.  :-)
Clown is my middle name. ;-)
+2 votes
I do not post anything on WikiTree that would be private in nature or cause any family member embarrassment.  I think that we should refrain from putting these details in the profiles as well as avoid this category.
by Vicki Norman G2G6 Mach 2 (20.9k points)
The existence of the category (Extreme Public Embarrassment) would, in itself, be an embarrassment to people who take Wikitree seriously.
+2 votes
Agree, "Extreme Public Embarrassment" should be out.  Black Sheep is also a subjective personal thing but can be heartwarming anyway.  To each his own, it's an honest category.
by Barbara Roesch G2G6 Mach 4 (43.7k points)
We need to be very careful our site is not used for bullying, exposing perceived wrongs or seen to be anything less than a serious genealogical site. Certainly no Profile under 100 years ago should even be considered for such a category as embarrassment. Reliable Sources would have to be mandatory. There is no place here for making our members feel uncomfortable in respect of their heritage.
Absolutely!  In fact, how is "Black Sheep" defined?  My perspective is a just someone who took a different road - and  would have little or nothing to do with criminal activity - recalling that some eyebrow raising behaviors in the past are now almost routine . . . . I think the discussion has  been good on this subject.
Barbara, Gilly,

The project page is located at

It clearly lists the crimes for which a profile may be included in the Black Sheep.

It also clearly lists the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists as the organization from which the project derives its criteria.

WOW, I had no idea how already organized this is . . . . . seems like it actually only includes real criminals.  Not just those who went down a wrong road and embarrassed a family for a while.  Big difference.  Thanks for showing me this, I just got interested in the topic!  Somehow I doubt if the Jerry Springer levels would fit it anyway (?). 

Oh, I'm pretty sure some chair-throwing, nipple-flashing Springer guests will eventually become Black Sheep|Lost Sheep at the least.

Actually, it's very useful to have an ambiguous sub-category. Case in point - I ran into a gal on another geneaology site who was researching her husband's tree which happened to be mine as well. She wrote a hysterical blog about finding a [[ good old fashioned murder]] while doing geneaology. Personally, I can't wait to add Martha to Wikitree just so I can link her to this blog as a source. It's so much more entertaining that the requisite primary documentation.

Martha was aquitted at trial but her case was so widely covered in the newspaper that she moved out of town and eventually made her way to Dallas, Texas for the remainder of her days.

She's definately a Black Sheep (if only for providing the story that became a legendary drinking song among Princeton frat boys), but she was not convicted. I know that Lizzie Borden wasn't convicted either and ended up in the women murderers category, but I think that without a conviction we have to maintain that it is possible that the accused might be innocent of the charges.   So, the Lost Sheep category is a good fit - in my not so humble opinion.

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