"He that has no fools, knaves, or beggars in his family must have been begot by a flash of lightning!"
Thomas Fuller, 1608-61
John Garland Pollard, former Virginia governor and William and Mary professor, said that genealogy was "tracing yourself back to people better than you are." Today many self-proclaimed blue bloods have this down to a science, claiming famed English royalty as their ancestors. What they don't realize is that during the Dark Ages, the only people who appeared in written genealogical records were royalty or nobility, and they had many descendants, so nearly every American today can claim the same thing. Some try to claim ancestral superiority because they can trace their family lines back to Mayflower passengers or American presidents. Some can trace their ancestry back to the founding father of their town, state, or religion. Books like The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail make controversial claims about a connection between European royalty and Christ; in Chinese tradition, ancestors are venerated and even prayed to and worshiped.
Infamous Ancestors: Black Sheep
But what if your ancestor was a horse thief, murderer, or army deserter? What if your ancestor was Benedict Arnold or Jack the Ripper? In actuality, everyone has prominent ancestors, and everyone has infamous ones.
So what do you do with your notorious ancestors? You can't deny that they exist, but a "pick your favorite ancestors" approach can generally be taken. Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, wrote:
"Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values."
So you can choose your favorite ancestor and honor him or her. Others choose a different approach entirely-they choose to embrace their notorious ancestors. The International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists, http://ibssg.org/blacksheep/, is a membership groups for those who have found a "black sheep" in their direct family lines who is guilty of treason, murder, theft, etc. The website www.blacksheepancestors.com also specializes in infamous ancestors and in prison and convict searches.
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