Question of the Week: What is something surprising you have found in your research?

+11 votes

What is something surprising you've found while researching your family history?

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.1m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
I learned that though my immediate family is from the southern and central part of the United States, that I have cousins from BOTH sides (mother and father) of the family in Washington State and they live about 40 miles from each other.
I found that two of my grandfathers, many generations back of course, were brothers and that their grandchildren married each other. Also their grandfather's sister was one brother's grandmother-in-law. Now how to a create a tree showing that????

42 Answers

+14 votes

I have had several surprises, but the only one that made me chuckle last year was that I found that in 1929 my grandmother Pearl M. Lovelace used her home as collateral to borrow $1,400 from her father Thomas McCleery . She always talked to me about how much respect she had for her father, especially when it came to money. I always have known that my grandfather had lost money drilling dry oil wells. She had to have really been mad at my grandfather when she asked her father for the money. Guess now I know why she is not buried with my grandfather. 

by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (708k points)
+15 votes
Hunting through pages of a small town newspaper, 1880-1884, for any mention of my ancestors/their cousins, I happened upon a story about the local "Insane Commission." They had just sent a woman to an asylum (and if you've read about them, you know what houses of torture they were in that era) because she had gone to university to get a teaching certificate and decided she did not want to teach...and then had refused to marry someone who asked her.

Poor woman! I had to wonder how many other women she represented in that era who were locked up for nothing more than wanting to decide their own fates. Scary stuff. 1880 wasn't all that long ago.
by W Counsil G2G6 Mach 2 (23.8k points)
While was doing research at the library on my second great grandmother, Margaret Pine, who died of Tuberculosis in Jacksonville Hospital in Illinois, I found where a woman, who had be locked up there for several years by her husband for insanity, was released and brought a lawsuit against the hospital and won. You are right about this not being that long ago.
Likewise, lobotomies, one of those horrors of history that is not so long in the past, and has been conveniently forgotten. Quite popular through the 1930s, 40s, and 1950s as a cure for deviant behavior, including: anxiety, insomnia, depression, panic attacks, being rebellious to one's parents, wives refusing to have sex with their husbands. Walter Freeman, famous for using ice picks to carve out sections of the brain like coring an apple, even lobotomized a four-year-old child. It is no surprise that women were lobotomized at twice the rate as men. The standard of acceptable behavior in a woman was so narrow, almost anything was enough to justify jamming an ice pick into her brain or sending her off to the nuthouse.

I just looked at a study done on the mental patients at California's Stockton State Hospital in the early 1950s. Women were committed for masturbation, using foul language, lesbianism, and drinking alcohol. 85% of the 241 lobotomies at Stockton were performed on women. 13 of these women had repeated lobotomies. 5 had been subjected to clitorectomies.
jeepers. It really is horrible.
Thank you for sharing this.  A reminder of yesterday's world and it's share of ignorance. Also a reminder today's world will one day seem nightmarish to future historians...
+15 votes
Biggest surprise is how much information I was able to find.  When I started I barely knew my grandparents names.  I was hopeful to find some great-grandparents and one or two great-great-grandparents.  I've found hundreds of ancestors, some going back more than 10 generations.

It has been quite a fun ride and there is still so much to research out.
by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
SJ, you said it so well! Every day is a new discovery.
+13 votes
I was adopted and found my family through DNA testing and research. For me the first surprise was finding my family at all. Then finding that my birth father spent many years in prison for robbing a grocery store and getting into a gunfight with the police.

My favorite is teasing my husband about his very long ago ancestor who got ran out of town for essentially pimping out his wife to his friends. They men involved were tried and kicked out of town. Not much was said about how the wife was treated once they were all gone...
by Julie Novak G2G6 Mach 1 (10.5k points)
+11 votes
(I accidentally added this as a comment the first time. I hid the comment, so hopefully it doesn't appear twice.)

This probably isn't the biggest, but it's my most recent surprise. Just yesterday I learned that my great-grandmother had a career, in addition to caring for her husband and six children. She was the City Clerk of Rhinelander, Wisconsin until her daughters pressured her to retire, well into her seventies. She was born in 1869 and died just after her 100th birthday, in 1969.
by Leslie Torkelson G2G6 (8.6k points)
+13 votes

I was quite surprised to learn that my given name "Bart" originally came from my great-great grandfather, Bartholomeus "Bart" Schlader." I had always believed that my name came from my grand-uncle, Barthel Triesch. While it did, the name Bart in my family started with my great-great grandpa.

by Bart Triesch G2G6 Pilot (256k points)
+17 votes

I was surprised to find how many nominally sane people share this ridiculous obsession of mine that causes me to spend hours squinting at barely legible handwritten records hoping to find a nugget of information about one of my ancestors who's been dead for 300

by Stuart Bloom G2G6 Mach 9 (95.1k points)
I so agree!
Very Very True Stu
So, should we say that you have been "stu"ing over records!!!  LOL
+8 votes
I've been surprised by quite a few of things. The number of stonemasons, miners and farmers in our history, for one. The enormous number of Cornish ancestors I have, which was totally unknown to me only three months ago. I was also expecting some Welsh and so far there have been none at all.

It's an amazing journey.
by Robert Judd G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
+9 votes
The most surprising thing I found was that all four of my grandparents have ancestry in colonial Maryland; my grandparents were all born in different states (both of my grandfathers met both of my grandmothers while they were stationed far from home while in the Army for training during WWII). So discovering that all of them had ancestors who lived in some of the same places and may even have known/been acquainted with one another was a bit unexpected (an example of this was a thing I came across when looking at records of marriage licenses issued in Prince George's County, Maryland, in 1781-1782; John Lynch and Rebecca father's 4th great-grandparents...were just a few entries below William Childs and Mary Willlett, my mother's 4th great-grandparents).
by C Handy G2G6 Pilot (190k points)
+8 votes

I was shocked after discovering the death certificate for my great great auntie Maude Pierson's husband, Dan Lawrence.  She was widowed  young and l imagined it had been difficult for her to raise two boys alone. It turns out she and her husband went through a particularly painful ordeal. Dan died at a sanitarium from "general paralysis of the insane" -- syphilis that he had no doubt contracted during his WW1 military service.

I was sorrowful thinking of how painful, unbearable this must have been. And also very surprised. 

by C Ryder G2G6 Mach 8 (83.4k points)
+6 votes
My G3 maternal grandfather remarried after his first wife died.  I had been researching his children & their spouses before coming to Wikitree.  Here, I found a 4C once removed from that same G3 grandfather who had posted his obituary.  It mentioned the married name of the widow he subsequently married.  I did a double take.

Long story short: one of G3's daughters and one of the widow's son's were the same age.  No blood relation, but step-siblings.  They evidently fell in love and had a child.  

Sadly, the daughter died a few months later at the age of 20, and the father and son emigrated back to the states.
by Melissa Moon G2G Crew (800 points)
+7 votes

My grandmother, Nell Thompson, went through five spouses.  No surprise there - #5 was my 'grandpa Seth.'  The surprise is the record I found when searching her whereabouts after she left home.  Nell left home in Greenup County, Kentucky, at age 13.  By age 17 she is in Priest River, Idaho, with two sons.  

Border Crossings: From U.S. to Canada, 1908-1935 

Dec 1914 - Boarder crossing at Port of Gateway into British Columbia.  Mrs. Nell McCrary, 23, wife, Ohio, U.S., travel by G.H.R, train 400, Priest River, Idaho, to Fernie, BC, $52.00; traveling with Rowland McCrary, 6, and Lorne McCrary, 4, Idaho, U.S. 

Her husband, Wayne Leo McCrary, was working at the coal mine in Fernie, British Columbia.  Nell took their two sons to their father and left them with him.  She never saw them again.

BUT - I have connected with the great-granddaughter of one of the boys.  

See Thompson-24051 for her story.

by Jo Gill G2G6 Pilot (137k points)
+7 votes

I have traced my tree back to Thomas Christmas born c1538 whose family were in Castle Hedingham the ancestral seat of the De Veres. 

There is interestingly, a well documented Robert Christmas younger son to Alderman John Christmas and servant to John de Vere the sixteenth earl of Oxford in the mid 1500’s. He seems a bit notorious!

Given the scarcity of the surname, there is a strong possibility of a link. We shall see, hopefully!

by Michael Christmas G2G6 Mach 1 (10.5k points)
+8 votes

Until a few months ago, I was under the impression that I was related to a branch of the American Woolard Family through my English-born Grandmother [Mary Elizabeth (Cissie) Cain]. It would seem, however, from more recent investigations resulting from my Ancestry DNA test, that that is not the case - for I could not establish any Woolard connections with any of the list of close match “cousins” sent to me by Ancestry.

Initially, the earliest Woolards I had found, was a John Woolard, who grew up in Fort Valley, in Shenandoah Co in WV in the early 1750's. I traced the family from WV to Ohio - through Henry W. Woolard (1787-1878), to Isaac (1811-1867), to James Albert Woolard Snr (1868-1922) to James Albert Woolard Jnr (1885-1964) and it is he, who met up with my Grandmother in Nov/Dec 1922. He married Cissie Cain in Feb 1923 as she was pregnant with my Mother.

My Grandmother had emigrated from England to Canada in November 1919 (aged 20) and worked as a Domestic in Montreal for various families. I have managed to track her down almost month by month whilst in Canada by using the 1920 Canadian Census and City Directories, annotated photographs etc etc. In March 1922 she decided to emigrate from Canada to the US, and before leaving Canada she went sightseeing from April to November. Once her emigration documents were finally processed, she crossed into the US in late Nov 1922 - and once there, Cissie soon met up with a certain James Albert Woolard.

What I've recently found out is that she was already pregnant before she left Canada, and probably became pregnant (sometime in September) during her sightseeing venture. I believe that probably James Woolard was actually tricked into believing the baby was his. Cissie Cain and James Albert got married in Feb 1923 and my Mother was born in Philadelphia in July 1923. Between the birth in July and my Mother's Baptism in February 1924, the marriage - unsurprisingly - broke down. Soon after the Baptism in Philadelphia, my Mother was brought to England by Cissie - where she grew up, married, had me etc etc.  My Grandmother returned to the States in November 1924 - leaving my Mother to be looked after by her Aunts and her Grandmother in England. My Grandmother never saw my Mother again - she met someone else on her return to the US - had 3 more children and died in December 1935 in Cincinnati.

As my Mother grew up, she was told untrue stories about her “Father” and why she’d been left here in England.  My Mother died in 2006 - never knowing the “truth” of what had taken place in 1922/3/4.

My DNA Test with Ancestry revealed that I seem to have quite a few 3rd and 4th Cousins - and on GEDmatch quite a few more.  I’ve been in contact with some of them over the past few months, and the names that keep cropping up in their family trees seem to be Hatfield, Lowe, Owens, Sanders, Holloway and Whitt.  On looking at my closest Ancestry 3rd Cousins (the closest share as many as 179 Centimorgans across 7 segments, the next 175 cms across 7 segments, and the next 167 cms across 8 segments with me) I’ve been able to establish a Most Recent Common Ancestor with most of them - the MRCA is a George Hatfield (1804-1883) who was married to Nancy Jane Whitt.  I’ve done extensive research on him and his descendants - unfortunately the Hatfields often had as many as 10 - 15 children !!

Has anyone any thoughts as to how I might establish who my birth grandfather might be ?

Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing it.
+6 votes
I discovered that my father had a younger brother who died at the age of 15 days of congenital malformation of the heart. No one in the family had ever mentioned another sibling in the family.  I only found out when I happened across a reference to a death certificate with my grandparents' names from another ancestry source..
by Sandi Davis G2G1 (1.2k points)
Sandi I think the generation before us often felt like they were protecting us from unpleasant things, so they just didn’t talk about things. Then we are left wondering why they did not share these family details. Thanks for sharing this.
+7 votes
Oh, several surprises. The ancestor who was a horsethief, who would skate back & forth across colony lines (pre-1776) to escape justice, leaving his wife and mother to raise the kids. During one absence the wife took up with another man and had a child. When horsethief hubby returned he divorced her and denied paternity of ALL of their children and his mom backed him up.

Then there was the ancestor couple who were repeatedly in court for breaking the peace, Including getting into a public brawl with a neighboring couple in which all 4 participants ended up in court, bruised and bloody. Later the town council showed up at his door asking if this ancestor was responsible for setting a church on fire. He owned up to it immediately, saying he needed the nails. Apparently nails were expensive!

My favorite was finding an amazing coincidence. My 1st husband and I are both from Tennessee, born in the 1960s. Our family has no connection that we ever found, but somehow our great-great-grandparents were living on the same street in a small Illinois town in 1900. They did not immigrate to  IL at the same time, nor later to TN at the same time and ended up in completely different areas of TN, so as far as we know it's just a weird coincidence.
by Lisa Humphrey G2G Crew (560 points)
edited by Lisa Humphrey
Before 1900 (roughly, not sure exactly when) nails were hand-made by the local blacksmith. So, yes, they were expensive.  Explains why old houses and barns were made with mortise and tenon, pegged together with dowels (tree-nails, or trennals as they were sometimes called).  Early nails can be identified by their square edges.

The Illinois town is an almost spooky coincidence.
+6 votes
There are lots of surprises that were waiting for me to discover in my Tree! In our Family Bible I found an entry for Grace Hood Tiltman, who died in March, 1927. Searching around the internet, I discovered she had a baby a month earlier, who only lived 4 days. I thought maybe no one living would remember this little baby, and someone should take note of him. I put him on my Tree, with a note about who he was, and how I'm related. I thought - her poor husband, lost his only son, and wife within a month! Here comes the surprise: last year I was contacted by the grand-nephew of that baby - he had 2 older brothers, who lost their mother at 2 and 4 years old!

Another surprise came out of finally solving a brick wall. My Grandfather's favourite sister was Nell. Couldn't find Nell in the family line, anywhere, although I had a picture of her. I finally tracked her down to my GGrandmother's first husband, and discovered her full name was Rose Ellen - of course - my Mom was nicknamed Nell and her name was Helen! It all clicked! Then I saw a picture of my grand-niece - a beautiful little girl, at that time. Without anyone knowing about the connection, she had been named Rose Helen - but she's known as Rosie!

Earlier on, I'd encountered my second cousin Jacqueline. Her great uncle was married to my great aunt. Through e-mails, we got to know each other, to discover we both served in the Navy - Jackie as a Wren in the Royal Navy, me as a Wren in the Canadian Navy! I met her, when she traveled from Europe to Canada a few years ago - we think alike, have a similar attitude, and spent a wonderful 2 days exploring part of Nova Scotia together.
by Linda Hockley G2G6 Mach 1 (13.1k points)
+6 votes
My biggest research surprise was the Removal Order I found for my 3x great grandparents who were ordered to be removed from Milverton in Somerset England back to Ottery St Mary in Devonshire England.

I finally discovered this in 2005 after many years of searching for a reason WHY they moved.

This removal order was a surprise as I had no idea that the Poor Laws existed at that time.
by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+5 votes
So many to choose from, I guess the biggest was finding out that my paternal great-grandmother Salomea Elchinger Reinheimer had a brother who murdered his 2nd wife which brings into question the "accidental" death of his 1st wife a few years before. Neither I nor my brothers had ever heard a bit of this information from around the turn of the last century. What I found interesting is that he not only wasn't given the death penalty but was out of prison in less than twenty years back in the days of swift justice.
by Terry Reinheimer G2G Crew (630 points)
+7 votes
Early in my research days while working on my maternal family, I discovered that my grandfather was born in 1853 instead of 1857. His children all said 1857 but the numbers did not work and I found the proofs. He suddenly became born in 1857 when he married my grandmother in 1906. Why? Because it made him a little less than 50 years old; my grandmother was only 26. We still don't know if Granny knew his actual age but I suspect she did and did not want her parents to know.
by Virginia Fields G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)

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