Question of the Week: What's an unusual story you've found in your research?

+13 votes
What's an unusual story you've found in your research?

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
That on my great great grandmother side Catherine Townsend

Roby . She was also traced to the McCartney family who were from the same county in Virginia where she was from. I did a relationship finder and she's 9 degrees from Mary McCartney of Lewis county that is now Virginia. Thank you found some more of my roby ancestors.

My 11th great grandfather, Edward Croft was tried for sorcery: the specific charge was compassing the death of another person. The witchcraft was a risky daring measure.

In the the late 1580s, his father, Sir James Croft, of Croft Castle, Herefordshire, was the Comptroller of Queen Elizabeth's Royal Household and a Privy Councillor who was involved in the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. James went to see the Italian Governor of Holland, the Duke of Parma in Holland, to negotiate a treaty. Unfortunately he didn't speak any of the languages involved and came back with a poor deal. He was suspected of treason and imprisoned in Fleet Prison.

 Edward was incensed and went to a conjuror, John Smith in London. He was asked to come back with the names of the councillors written on paper. John pointed to the name of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the Queen's favourite. With a flick of his hand he said "The Great Bear is muzzled".

Robert died a few days later of a stomach complaint. The trial outcome is unknown, but Edward was later imprisoned for debt, promised to pay if he were released, and instead absconded to Holland.

41 Answers

+8 votes
My Great Grandmother [[Harman-1192 | Amanda Harman]] was born in 1884 in Ontario.  She was the illegitimate daughter of Vialla Harman, and was the raised in the home of her maternal grandparents – Peter and Almira Harman.  

We worked for years trying to discover who her father was.

Suspect #1) Her birth certificate listed a John Wright - and there was one in the area who wife had a baby just 9 months before Amanda was born - and Amanda's mother, Vialia was known to work for the neighbours. And one of Amanda's daughters remembered her saying ONCE that her name should have been White - close enough.

Suspect #2) A 2nd cousin who lived in the area said that family stories said it was a Hooper - another neighbour.

Suspect #3) Years into our research we stumbled across an 1882 MARRIAGE for Vialia to an Arlington Foster!! No one in the family had ever mentioned a marriage - it was not recorded in the family Bible. Obviously no one knew of it - only the fact that Vialia's parents are named made us realize it was for our Vialia. We have not been able to find a divorce. He remarried 10 years later - a bigamist?  

With the advent of DNA we built trees for each of our three suspects - always aware that her father could be "none of the above". We were very excited to find DNA matches to one of those trees!! But the answer only raised more questions! Her father is Arlington Foster - the man her mother married 18 months before she was born. So why did Vialia not recognize that marriage? instead subjecting her daughter to a lifetime of being "illegitimate" when she wasn't? This is who I would like to sit down and have a chat with.

We are only about 90% positive Arlington is the correct father - only a DNA sample with a descendant of his 2nd marriage would be conclusive proof and we haven't been able to find one.
by Janice Trenouth G2G1 (1.8k points)
+7 votes

Just recently I found a document that showed my Great Uncle Wesley Gustaf Adolf Laurin impregnated his step-daughter Gladys Mina Sanborn 2x. The document shows Wesley as the father and Gladys as the mother and on the document by "Legitimate" it says "no". And I just found their son's obituary Charles Harold Laurin 

by Keith Cook G2G6 Mach 2 (22.8k points)
+6 votes
We never knew how my great-great-grandfather Gariepy had died in New York 140 years ago, until December 2019.  His death made quite a sensation at the time.

According to a petition for administration of the estate of [] (Garripy/Garypie) by his wife Mary, Louis died of injuries sustained when he was run over by a train on the Manhattan Railway in December of 1881. There is a complete list of all the children, allowing us to verify that this was our Louis Gariepy -- nine children in all.  (The misspellings in the document were common and arose from the English American pronunciation of a French-Canadian name.)

Based on newspaper clippings of the time, Louis, a carpenter, was killed instantly when hit by an unexpected train while he was working on the rail line at the Rector Street station near the end of his work day on 20 December 1881. The result was rather gruesome and led to considerable controversy over when and where the body was moved, all of it played out in the pages of the New York Herald newspaper. The article was entitled, "A Guillotine Train". (An image of the article is on his profile.)
by Joanna Gariepy G2G2 (2.9k points)
edited by Joanna Gariepy
+4 votes
John Cushier (Cushier-3) was born about 1768. At the age of 8, he was taken to sea by his uncle, the commander of a French war vessel. In those days, it was customary for the first son to enter the army and the second son, the navy. The English captured the vessel and John's uncle died before reaching England. One can surmise that given the circumstances, it was during a naval battle, In any case, John was found off the coast of England in an open boat with a servant in livery, presumably attempting to escape the crossfire.

Fortunately, John survived and was adopted by some kind people of refinement in Woolwich, who brought him up and apprenticed him to learn the shipbuilding business in the Woolwhich Dockyard. His foster mother noticed, when he came to her family, that his clothing was of expensive quality, denoting that he belonged to a family of wealth and distinction, presumably a member of the French aristocracy. While in France, the young John enjoyed pony rides, also accompanied by a servant in livery.

John was described as an intelligent boy, reserved and industrious, with a keen sense of humor. As a young man, he was thrifty and saved money, which he earned through promotions in his position in H. M. Dockyard, Woolwich. When he completed his apprenticeship, he intended to return to France to find his parents, brother, and former home. He advertised several times but after having received no news of his birth family, he concluded that they either had died or refused to acknowledge the relationship. That not withstanding, he intended to proceed to France anyway to carry out the search in person, but again, he was taken captive, this time by the charms of an exceptional English lady named "Miss Jane Smith." This being the case, he decided to remain in England, and canceled his plan to return to France. The young couple was married after a while and spent the rest of their lives in Woolwich, England, where they were reported to have enjoyed the respect of all who knew them.

Regarding John's attempts to contact his birth family, by the time he had finished his apprenticeship, perhaps sometime after age 21, the French Revolution had started. He would have been 25 or 26 years old during the Reign of Terror, in which many French aristocrats lost their lives. John astutely assumed that his family had died, fled persecution, or simply went into hiding, in keeping with his describe character and superior intellect. The danger alone would have been enough to deter any return to France at that time. In any case, it was better for John to have lost his heart to an English beauty, than to have lost his head to a French blade.
by Marion Ceruti G2G6 Mach 3 (38.3k points)
+4 votes
My unusual story is: I found this out recently while researching My grandfather(moms dad) Dearld Phelps married my grandma Dorothy Hall in 1941 & had my Aunt Phyllis 1942 my mom Carol 1943 & a infant son passed, he actually died at 1952 of bladder cancer, he also fought in the war. But the unusual thing I found is he was actually married 1934 to another woman & they had 3 boys that I have found 1 passed away at 6mos 1 passed in 2000. The sad thing is my mom always wanted a brother her sister passed at 27yrs they were super close. My Uncle just recently told me while overseas at war he married someone & had at least 1 child(still haven't found truth to that but I'm at a loss on how to find that?? Would love anyone's input or help) My mom passed in 2015 &I just learned this 2018. Ilearned  this info thru newspapers & marriage certificate ect.
by Tammy Swart G2G Crew (320 points)
+5 votes
I have copies of depositions from my g-g-grandfather and his mother, my g-g-g-grandmother regarding an application for pension benefits for her husband from the American Civil War. After serving, according to the deposition, he got word that his father had died in Canada and left the family as they were moving, saying he would come back as soon as he could. However, he never came back. In fact, not long after he'd left, letters came to the family asking how my g-g-g-grandmother had died.

Apparently, after going back to Canada, he told everyone that his wife had died and he got remarried. When questioned by her brother, he said he had a decree of divorce (but there wasn't one). The depositions were taken when both my g-g-g-grandmother and his second wife applied for pension benefits. From the stories in the depositions, my g-g-g-grandfather, John Whitesell was quite a philanderer and got into many fights because of it.
by Saphyre Rogers-Berry G2G6 (8.7k points)
+5 votes

A tragedy that happened to my mother's cousin's first wife, Florence (Odle) Forrey, at their home in Idaho, during prohibition.

According to the news article in the Twin Falls Idaho Evening Times, from May 11, 1934, her husband, Howard Vernon Forrey, had a still in a cellar underneath a chicken brooder.  He was working for a local bootlegger, by the name of Ed Waddell. He was raided by the revenue officers and he was arrested. his wife and her uncle, Amos Hastriter, went down to the cellar and Amos lit a match, to check on the still and caused a gasoline explosion. Amos was able to run out and jump in an irrigation ditch, then went back in and got his niece out, but it was too late for her survival. Florence's 7-year old daughter called the neighbors for help. She lived 8 1/2 hrs. before she died from the burns.

by Alison Gardner G2G6 Mach 5 (57.4k points)
+5 votes

The following five synopses are among the more surprising in my tree, but I suspect not that unusual, since each reflects a facet of the human condition.

How I spent my mid-life crisis. Giles Ilett lived two lives. He was a yeoman/miller with a wife and children in SW England up until the late 1850s. Then he simply disappeared from records and his wife later claimed widow status. Thanks to Wikitree member Carole for notifying me that she had found mention of a Giles Ilett serving in a Cavalry Regiment in Colorado at the end of the Civil War. It turns out to have been the very same Giles, now a miner living in South Park, Colorado. He had followed the gold to Pike's Peak. Sadly, his volunteer regiment was a principal unit involved in the Sand Creek massacre of the Cheyenne.

German tourist does America. Balthasar Kaltwasser, alias John Coldwater, was a Hessian soldier in the Waldeck Regiment. He fought with the British against the Americans in the NY area, then got shipped down to Florida and then on to New Orleans, where he was captured by the Spanish and imprisoned. He escaped, made his way up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Louisville, where he enlisted in Gen. George Rogers Clark's Illinois Regiment of the Virginia Line Militia and fought against the British and their native allies on the western frontier for the remaining 3 years of the war. He settled on land in Indiana earned from his service.

Hanky panky uncovered. Mysterious close relatives were found by DNA match; they did not exist in any recorded ancestral line. It was deduced that this Jackson line was actually headed by my gg-grandfather James Smith (son-in-law of John Coldwater). Turns out James was a neighbor of the soon-to-be Mrs. Jackson. Hoping this is far enough in the past that its revelation will not destroy lives.

Work makes the man. We don't have to peer too far into the  past to see that our forebears worked longer and harder. My ancestral example is my great uncle EO, who was on the job for 81 years, apprenticed as a plantsman at age 12, died at age 93 as proprietor of his own nursery: E. O. Orpet, Rare Plants, Bulbs, and Cacti. He was well known in various circles through his hybridizing (plants named after him), his contributions to trade publications Articles Published by E. O. Orpet in Garden and Forest magazine, his position as Superintendent of Public Parks in Santa Barbara through the 1920s, the Santa Barbara Park named for him, and for his long-running nursery business during his final quarter century.

Altruism on a large scale. Richard Bourne came to Sandwich MA as part of the Puritan Great Migration. He was a strong supporter of preventing the native peoples from being forced to leave their lands, enabling them to live their lives independently as Christian communities. To this end, he bought with his own funds a 50 square mile tract of land on Cape Cod and donated it to the local Mashpee tribe. The Mashpee community became self regulating and the reservation was active for over a century, until outside corruption by English colonial rule, later Massachusetts state corruption, and greed of tribal overseers, leaves only 150 acres of land that is now a reservation under control of the Dept. of Interior.

by Weldon Smith G2G6 Mach 1 (17.1k points)
edited by Weldon Smith
+3 votes

This is my Jacob and Marie saga. Copied from Jacob's page

The saga of Jacob and Marie has some interesting twists and turns and is currently an open ended question. Jacob and Marie were born in Lesja [1][3]. They left Lesja around 1840 and went to work on a farm in Melhus.

On 11 Dec 1841 Marie has John (Jacobsen) Gravrok who is listed as illegitimate.[6] While not unusual, it's what happens next that is. Jacob and Marie do not get married, in fact they marry others. Jacob marries Brynhild Jonasdatter[2] and Marie marries Trond Christofersen[4]. They both have children from their marriages; Jacob has one Hendrik Jacobsen and Marie has two Christofer Trondsen and Kari Trondsdatter.

At this point it's important to note that Brynhild is 16 years older than Jacob. She is also a small pox survivor. [7]Marie's husband dies prior to 1865. In 1865, at the time of the census, Brynhild is now 60 years old with a 16 year old son living at home. She certainly needs help around the house and farm. Marie also has her youngest child still living with her and she needs a place to live without a husband. So yes, Marie moves in to live with Jacob, the father of her illegitimate child, who's still married to Brynhild. [5].

According to the Melhus Bygdebok, read in the 1980's [7], Brynhild's brothers were not happy with this arrangement and had the marriage of Jacob and Brynhild annulled. (note after there are children from the marriage.) They did this to return the property from Jacob's control to Brynhild's brothers.

Jacob and Marie leave Melhus and are currently unaccounted for.

by David Grawrock G2G6 (9.5k points)
+6 votes

Here is my unusual story. It would make a great movie.... William Henshawe (born 1608), married Katherine Houghton (born 1615) in 1630, and had sons Joshua (born c1643) and Daniel (born c1644). William had a large estate, which included Wavertree Hall (or Wartre Hall). William was killed at the storming of Liverpool in 1644 (during the English Civil Wars) while fighting against King Charles I. William's wife, Katherine Houghton, was poisoned in 1651 by the butler so he could gain control of Wavertree Hall and lands. He shipped the boys off to America telling everyone they had died in the plague. When Joshua went back to England to fight for the estate in 1690, he was also poisoned, but by the butler's son.  Wavertree Hall was never regained by the Henshaws.  You just can't make this stuff up!

by Sharon Payne G2G6 (6.4k points)
+5 votes

My 8th great-grandmother, Honora O'Flynn, lived on the south coast of Ireland when she was kidnapped by pirates. They brought her to Maryland where my 8th GGF saw her and fell in love with her.  He traded a hogshead of tobacco for her and married her.'Flynn-16

by Mark Burch G2G6 Mach 7 (72.1k points)
+3 votes
My ancestor, George F. Rogers, registered for the Civil War draft in June of 1863. I don't think he served, though, because less than a month later his year-old daughter died. And then, two days later, George himself died. They are buried next to each other in Exeter Mills, Maine with matching headstones, one large, one small. I never could find out what happened to them.
by L Strum G2G Crew (960 points)
+4 votes

I discovered that the work of my ancestor, Carl Theodor Robert FROHBERG, is still giving joy to millions of people today.  He was the first to brew with a pure strain of yeast and the class of yeast he used is still used to brew over 90% of all beer in the world today.  It is  named after him: Frohberg yeast.    In 1872 he purchased the Stadtbraureri (the town brewery) of Grimma, a small town in Saxony, Germany. Frohberg was an innovator and apart from investing into the latest brewery technology, he also experimented with different ways of brewing.  At that time, every brewery was brewing with yeast of mixed  strains, resulting in quite a lot of variation between batches.  In fact, brewers believed that that strain diversity was important to give beer its full and complex flavour.  Frohberg sent a sample of his brewing yeast to the Brewing Institute in Berlin with a request to isolate individual strains and to test these pure lines for their ability to cold-ferment a lager / Pilsner-style beer. The best strain that was isolated from his batch of yeast.  It had great brewing characteristics and was named after him:  Frohberg yeast.  He was the first brewer in the world to brew beer with a pure strain of yeast - a technique which would later take the brewing world by storm.  When you next enjoy a beer, raise a toast to my ancestor, Carl Theodor Robert FROHBERG (1850-1905), whose pure yeast strain fermented it for you.

by M. Lohmeyer G2G1 (1.8k points)
+4 votes
The saddest story I’ve ever come across is the first time my gg grandmother’s name hit the press in 1865. As a newly-married and pregnant young woman, she found the body of a baby floating in Nelson Harbour, New Zealand. The baby belonged to Mary Ann Spendlove, a recently arrived immigrant coming to join her husband - it was not his child. She was charged with infanticide, but was convicted of concealing a death. While in prison, she gave birth to another child 14 months later, who also died, the body later exhumed for an inquest, although the death was natural. Mary Ann herself died a few years later on Christmas Day in hospital. Every time I drive along the seafront at Nelson, I think of my gg grandmother and wonder how this event affected her.
by Fiona McMichael G2G6 Pilot (133k points)
+3 votes
My grandmother Carol Kirby Dobson (Verrall-380) was adopted in 1910. While researching her biological family, I discovered that after her biological grandmother (Charity Pearson Verrall, Pearson-5644) died in 1915, her biological grandfather Frederick William Verrall (Verrall-289, age 55) turned around a year later and married the 29 year-old ex-wife (Margaret Young, Young-37075) of his son Victor Verrall, (Verrall-385), my grandmother's uncle.  I haven't yet discerned when or why Margaret and Victor divorced.  The situation was so odd that it took me awhile to wrap my head around what the documents were telling me.  Margaret divorced Frederick at some point and married someone else in 1936; Frederick died at age 81 in 1942.
by Cindy Stevens G2G2 (2.3k points)
Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones married an 18-year-old girl named Mandy in 1989. Then his adult son by a previous marriage married Mandy's mother... making him his own father's father-in-law.
+3 votes

A surprising story was uncovering newspaper articles concerning my 4th Great Grandfather  James Taylor McCabe-2563 and his brother-in-law my 4th Great Grand Uncle Michael Dougherty-152

The articles revealed that they ran an illegal immigration service for Irish immigrants. The would create documents to allow the immigrant to stay legally in the United States. It made the papers because it was a case being tried by the newly created federal prosecution department.

The department lost their case however, as no person in the communities around my Greats would testify for the prosecution. The community protected them.

It is unknown how many families got a fresh start with their documents, but according to the papers, the prosecution had a number in the 1,000s to convince a judge to go ahead with the case.

by Jeanette McIntyre G2G3 (4k points)
edited by Jeanette McIntyre
+5 votes
It's not a good idea when cousins marry...,

So, all my Hoag ancestors were New England Quakers. In those days, if you were a Quaker, you married a Quaker. If you were a Presbyterian, you married a Presbyterian etc. etc. Sometimes you run out of potential spouses. In 1703, Jonathan Hoag of Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts, married Martha Goodwin of neighboring Amesbury. in 1707, Jonathan's brother Joseph marries Martha's TWIN sister, Sarah. So all of their children were double first cousins having the same paternal lineage and the same maternal lineage. In 1736, Jonathan and Martha's son, Nathan, married Joseph and Sarah's daughter, Hannah. Jonathan and Hannah are/were double 1st cousins. There are a couple of other 1st cousin marriages in that group, but this is special because their fathers were brothers and their mothers were sisters. Jonathan and Martha had 12 children. Joseph and Sarah had 11.
Yes I have seen that as well, one where a brother and sister married a sister and brother. Their children ended up marrying each other. Isolation didn't leave many options for families with large amounts of children.
I sincerely hope their mothers were not identical twins, as this would be the equivalent of half-siblings marrying.
+2 votes
My ancestor Giovanni Thonelli came from Milan - where he was born around 1645 - to Germany. After a long migration, he took the chance to help with the reconstruction of an old mill in the Moselle area. He then settled in Monzelfeld, worked several mills, even built a new one, and married twice. He had six children and changed his name to a "germanized" Johann Donell.

Unfortunately he didn't live to his natural end. He was shot by a robber who had spent the night in Monzelfeld and had probably been discovered. The robber fired a shot, and innocent Giovanni was hit by the bullet and died.

Despite his undeserved death, Giovanni was the founding father of all Donell families from the Moselle river up to Kaiserslautern!
by Anne Unfried G2G Crew (810 points)
+3 votes
I have discovered that one of my husband's ancestors joined the circus!
by Judith Brandau G2G6 (7.8k points)
+1 vote
My 4th great-grandfather, John Christian Church fought in the American Revolutionary War with the 10th/6th Virginia Continental Army and was captured by the British at Charleston in 1780. He was then recruited (or impressed) onboard prison ship FIDELITY for service in the Duke of Cumberland’s Regiment of Carolina Rangers in Jamaica. He was declared a deserter by the British in January 1783 and made his way back to Virginia to receive his discharge from the American army later that year.

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