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Skeletons In the Family Closet

Every family has them - relatives who are talked about in hushed tones. Sometimes we shun them for their words and lifestyles, other times the reasons are more sinister.

My family tree is no exception to this rule. Although I have a LOT of relatives and ancestors that I am proud to call "family", I also have a number of people that I am not so crazy about. However, family is family - you cannot choose who you are related to, and you cannot control what they did that has made them, in some cases, infamous.

I've known for some time now that I have a few such individuals in my family tree. Some of these relatives are simply unlikeable individuals who were mean, sneaky or disingenuous like my distant cousin, former President Richard Nixon, the only President in US history to resign before being impeached. Then there are the James brothers, Jesse and Frank, the notorious gun wielding bandits around whom legends have formed. The fact that they were murders as well as thieves seems to be overlooked in my history books.

Another relative that I am not so crazy about is General Benedict Arnold whose name has now become synonymous with the word "traitor". He tried to sell out his country and fellow comrades to the enemy.

Yesterday I took the time to post about an even more infamous distant relative, Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I spent hours researching Oswald and reading various biographies and reports of his life. To be honest, I have always been suspicious of the "lone gunman" theory in President Kennedy's assassination, and after doing an even more thorough investigation into this particular relative's life, I am even more doubtful that he acted alone. Still, I do believe that he was deeply involved in the President's assassination, lone gunman or not; I just think that there is more to the story, but it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure.

Another distant relative is Hawley Harvey Crippen, who murdered his wife Cora in England in 1910. Crippen has the dubious distinction of being the first murderer to have been caught after the captain of the ship he was sailing on from England to America telegraphed British authorities that he suspected he had Crippen traveling on board in disguise. When the ship entered Canadian waters on the St. Lawrence, officials came on board and arrested Crippen for the murder of his wife.

Another nasty cousin of mine was England's infamous King Henry VIII, someone who found it easier to have his wives killed rather than divorce them.

How about suspected axe murderess, Lizzie Borden? She was acquitted of the murders of her father and step-mother, but does anyone really believe that she didn't do it? She's also a cousin of mine.

Still another infamous person that I think may be a distant relative of mine (I have yet to do the full research) is the mass killer H.H. Holmes, who set up the "murder hotel" for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Holmes has the dubious distinction of being one of America's first serial killers, having admitted to killing at least 27 people at his hotel.

Having such notorious people occupying places within my family tree doesn't thrill me, but to purposely omit their names and pretend that they are not relatives would be doing a disservice to the truth. This is, at least, my opinion. I believe that both the good and the bad people that share my bloodline all deserve a place in my family tree. I may not like it, but denying the truth won't change the fact that these people are my relatives, even though (thankfully), quite distant relations.

What would YOU do if you found such a person in your family tree? Would you omit them and keep their relationship a secret, or would you put them in your tree?


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