My Boring Ancestors

I’ve been thinking about “boring ancestors” lately and the feeling by some that it’s necessary to add extraneous “stuff” to your family history in order to liven them up. To that I say “balderdash.” There’s nothing like good ol’ exhaustive research to discover that your ancestors are not all that boring. My children have no famous ancestors, no bluebloods, and no wealthy or elite forebears hiding in their tree. Most of their ancestors were farmers, artisans, laborers, factory workers and the like–with an occasional English merchant of modest means thrown in.

Yet here are quick summaries of just a few stories:

  • Pension applications indicate that in 1902 my great-grandfather was working as the hired man for his future mother-in-law, complete with his salary, what parts of the work he did and what his regular work was.
  • Probate records on my third great-grandmother indicated that her one grandson borrowed $1800 from her about 1899, never paid her back, never drew up the mortgage that was supposed to have been drawn up to secure the loan, and was almost sued by his uncle after his grandmother’s death.
  • My great-great-grandfather was arrested for illegal distribution of beer around the turn of the 20th century.
  • My great-grandmother’s brother was shot (and probably murdered) in a hotel in Kansas City in 1921.
  • My 3rd great-grandfather accidentally shot himself while hitting a cow with the butt of a gun.
  • I had an aunt who, while suffering from cancer in the 1930s, “cut her stomach” out because of the pain and died.
  • My great-great-grandparents were step-siblings.
  • My ancestor at the age of nearly 70, returned to his native Germany leaving his wife and grown children in the United States.
  • My wife’s ancestors lived with 7 children in a 14 foot square cabin in Missouri in the 1850s.
  • My ancestor went to Nebraska, started a homestead in the 1870s and returned.
  • My aunt’s third husband killed a man in Nebraska after a bar fight in the 1870s.
  • An ancestor was censured by the Virginia House of Burgesses in the 1740s for interfering with an election.
  • A cousin was involved in mining speculation in Columbia in the 1890s.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
There aren’t boring ancestors, just research that’s not done. And virtually none of these stories were discovered on While I like and use it every day, the bulk of these items were located in original, offline records.

5 thoughts on “My Boring Ancestors

  1. Original, off line records! Yes! But since I can’t travel often, I will also use as many on line sources as I can find. THe real thrill is in those unexpected finds in unexpected places that answer, or create, unexpeted questions.

  2. Boring, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
    I found it mind boggling and fascinating – information from a family reunion “newsletter” from the reunion era – that my great grandmother routinely baked 14 loaves of bread for her family every week. And I found it sad but interesting that a great uncle died from appendicitis, per the coroner’s record, and not in a quick sand accident like my Gramma had told me… Even routine, mundane, information can spur one on to keep researching… and asking questions…

  3. Love this. When I first started my research, I admit I was a little disappointed that my family history seemed a tad dull. Most of my ancestors were farmers, tailors, labourers, and small time merchants from England and Scotland. As I dug deeper, however, I found:

    -A great-great-grandmother who came to the US alone as a teen, became the plural wife of a man old enough to be her grandfather, had a daughter with him, was abandoned, developed tuberculosis, became addicted to morphine, ran a boarding house, and remarried…all before she turned 30.

    -A great-great-grandfather who set out to get rich in the goldrush and “wage war on the Mormons”, only to *become* a Mormon and ditch the goldrush for Utah.

    -A several times great grandfather who married the daughter of the family who had taken him in when his parents died young and unexpectedly – travelling halfway across the world to find her again.

    And so on. There are so many fascinating stories in these so-called “boring” ancestors’ lives.

  4. Dana Sutton says:

    After several years of searching, I think that I verified the year that my 4x Great-grandfather McCammon cane from Ireland to America. It turns out that the man who would become his brother-in-law came from Ireland to Pennsylvania shortly before our Revolution. He fought during that war, on our side, & then went back to Ireland to marry my great-Aunt. Shortly afterward the couple & her 3 brothers sailed from Ulster to America. I only have strong secondary sources for this so far, but if I can’t come to Ft Wayne this August, it will be because I’m in Ireland. Love your multiple stories too.

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