Black Sheep Genealogy

A post in the recent newsletter from the New England Historic Genealogical Society got me thinking about black sheep genealogy.  You know those family members that have the reputation of being a bit "off".  Ancestors that the rest of the family was at best a bit embarrassed about or at worst, completely shunned.  They can be awfully hard to track down and get details about because often they weren't the ancestors that our families bragged about.  

Keep in mind that what is considered socially unacceptable or sordid changes over times and social norms vary.  What was considered shameful in the 18th or 19th centuries might be totally acceptable now.  Some examples of what are considered open topics now that were once taboo could include mental illness, the birth of children outside of marriage, or couples living together outside of marriage.  

There are some great resources out there to help you track down these ancestors, but keep in mind that you may still hit walls with records or private institutions (like hospitals) or with privacy law.  If you've got resources that you've had luck with, please consider sharing!

This particular site Black Sheep Ancestors is a great web directory especially geared towards criminal records and executions in U.S. Canada and U.K. 

kwells's picture
Kate Wells

As the Rhode Island Collection librarian at Providence Public Library, Kate Wells helps bring Rhode Island history to light by increasing access to the collection and providing research assistance to patrons. In the “Rhode Island Red” blog, Kate showcases interesting materials from the collection, provides research tip & techniques, and highlights local history. Feel free to contact her if you have any Rhode Island related questions; she is always happy to help. Email:


Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options