Upon occasion, one hears fellow genealogists being slightly judgmental about a specific ancestor. Instead of getting bogged down in that line of thinking (which doesn’t help your research any), think “why?”

Putting yourself in your ancestor’s shoes gives you a different perspective. If you were twenty-six years old, widowed, the mother of two small children, unable to speak English and living where you had no relatives, what might you do? You might marry the first German speaking single male around–one who would not have been your choice if you were twenty years old and still living at home with no children to support.

If your great-grandfather “disappeared” consider where he might have gone and what he might have done in an attempt to find him. Was there a war he might have enlisted in? Did he have some type of psychological problems? Maybe it was even better that he left, despite the disruption it caused in the family.

If you never personally knew the ancestor, leave the judging to someone else. Focus instead on your research.

On the flip side of this, I know one researcher who thought it was “romantic” that her great-great-grandmother found the “love of her life” and left her husband and headed out West on some grand adventure. The researcher was completely enamored with the story. Now if HER mother had done the same thing, I’m certain her response would have been somewhat different.



8 Responses

  1. My maternal grandfather left my grandmother and two children up in Washington State. He was seeking a job at the time. This would have been somewhere in the late 1830s to the early 1940s. Grandma was growing anxious and concerned because he was gone so very long without word. If your ‘relative’/ancestor has gone missing, it could be they were seeking employment. As it turned out grandpa called her to let her know he had found work. This is when they moved to California.

  2. For a few years I skipped researching my mother’s Arnold line because both my grandfather and grt grandfather had left their first families and then had a bigamous marriage. But it turns out my grt grt grandfather was a Brethren pastor and from a long line of pastors whose German immigrant in the 1700s started the first Brethren church near Antietam MD. This immgrant had several sons and grandsons, in addition to my direct ancestors, who started churches on the frontier. That’s when I realized how judgemental I had been.

  3. My research has uncovered a direct line ancestor who was a slave owner in pre-civil war Louisiana. It’s hard not to judge, but it was a different time and place. Then I found a journal written by my ancestor’s neighboring cotton planter that says my ancestor was a cruel master. Now it’s even harder not to judge. My consolation is that his grandson, my great grandfather, married the daughter of a man who led the Kansas colored troops during the civil war.

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