Let’s Talk About: Black Sheep!


Looking for the shady characters in your own family tree? Whether they were bootleggers or brothel owners, black sheet are some of the most interesting ancestors you’ll ever trace. Our “10 Things to Know” will help you figure out why…..and where to turn to her your own family’s black sheep.

1. The black sheep of the family is the one who went against the grain negatively. Look at the enumerators comments in the census and elsewhere.  (I have one example: “makes her living by lying on her back.”)

2. Black sheep often have deep paper trails….. newspaper records, court records and even prison records. 

3. Black sheep often surface in family stories…which might or might not be true.

4. Black sheep ancestors often adopted a new name…like escaping the law or a jilted lover.

5. Black sheep are often mentioned in other people’s histories….. if they lived in the same town where your black sheep ancestor roamed, they might have included those stories.

6. Black sheep were more prevalent in the American west which was big and wild and no papers were ever asked for identification.

7. Black sheep had reason to travel…to get away from something. Check out passports, passenger lists and out-of-town newspapers.

8. Black sheep do have mothers….. check census and newspaper records.

9. Black sheep were often tracked by the government…. 1880 census of Defective, Dependent and Deliquent individuals who were imprisoned in prisons or aslymns.

10. Black sheep are often not mentioned by other family members.

*** Thanks to the Ancestry newsletter for this information. 

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