Sunday, April 12, 2009

So? Are we who we say we are?

I've been doing a lot of genealogical work lately, researching new family members and updating my website. Anyone who does family research knows you usually find someone who would.....how to say this?....who would embarrass our more prudish cousins, aunts and uncles. And that's the type of person I found myself going back to several times a day. When you find a hidden gem in your family's past you just have to dig deeper.

The guy I'm talking about is a cousin from the late ninteenth century. What happened was; he ran away from his wife and two children. In fact, he ran out on his life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and ran all the way across the country, after a stop in Idaho to take care of some trivial matters, matters like marrying again (disregarding the pesky little problem of being married already.) After commiting bigamy he headed west to California where, by all accounts, he straightened his life out and became a good family man.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, his first and real wife sued him, first: for all he left behind and, second: for a divorce. Of course he never knew she won the divorce and ownership of their assets. He was obviously too busy staying undercover. Her case was published in several bits in the Washington Post for all the world to see, saying he had "Repeatedly stayed up all night, playing cards and drinking with his friends until early morning." And, she said, "He never gave her any money for food or to run their household."

I know, I know....right now you're asking yourself, "So....what did he do wrong?" Still, understand that in those days those sorts of things were frowned upon (I'M KIDDING!) In any case, on his death bed, he told his wife and his adult children the entire story and how, after all those years, their names were not what they thought. In fact, one of his sons came back to Virginia, met many of his new-found relatives and documented the entire story. Suffice it to say, he never considered changing his name. The false name was quite good enough for the family, thank you very much.

Then, after we discovered the above story, my wife told me about one of her relatives who did, essentially, the same thing, only for far more sinister reasons. It seem as a young man her relative had engaged in a string of armed robberies in a southern city that will remain nameless. I suppose you could chalk it up to youthful exhuberance but things went out of control one day when they tried to rob an unfortunate motorist, a travelling salesman (okay! Salesperson!) who just happened to be sitting at a traffic light in that city. It seems the guy didn't take the two bandits seriously but, unfortunately for him, they were completely serious. They panicked when he refused to hand over his cash so they shot and killed him.

Well, they both ran like very scared rabbits, as well they should, but one (not her relative) was captured and went to prison for life. Odd? Seems he served just seven years of his life sentence, and that after he'd escaped twice! The criminal justice system hasn't changed all that much, has it? The other guy, a married man with several children, moved a half dozen states away and was never caught (apparently his partner in crime didn't rat him out.) He died several years ago, after living a relatively honest live, never telling his family the details. But the wife knew and, on her death bed, she told her children the story, leaving out the part about the murder and his other nefarious activities.

My wife, a tenacious person to say the least, spent a lot of her genealogy time travelling and digging out the real story. She keeps most of the ugly details to herself, saying "to protect the innocent."

So now I find myself sitting here wondering......am I really Dan Barham???? Or did my father, or his father's father, do something reprehensible, something dastardly, something that would necessitate a name change and a quick departure from some long-lost city? I don't know and what I don't know worries me. What, exactly, did they hide from me all those years ago? Am I who they say I am? There's got to be someone out there with answers to these life-changing questions. If you know "The Real Story" about me and my ancestors please let me know. I must tell you.....after all these years it's a terrible burdon. Can you help?

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten;

Either write things worthy of reading, or do things worthy of writing."

Benjamin Franklin, May 1738

2 comments:

Territory Mom said...

What a great story! Genealogy is fun! Thanks for joining my blog. I joined yours too.

grammyof13 said...

What a great story - (to be repetitious) with Territory Mom. Keep it up and you'll have me doing genealogy!

later
Doris