Genealogical researchers have uncovered allegations that ancestors of current Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama may have been slave owners. Other researchers claim that '04 candidate, the Rev. Al Sharpton, is descended from slaves who may have been owned by relatives of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, an avowed segregationist a half-decade ago. Some researchers even say there is a possibility that Sharpton is distantly related to Thurmond.
While it's unclear what the political implications of these discoveries are, it comes as no surprise to experienced genealogists that research of a family connection dating to the Civil War era may uncover details that look quite harsh when viewed through the prism of today's social climate.
One of the fascinations of delving into one's past is that, for better or worse, you don't know where your path will lead.
In my own family, it is said that my maternal grandmother's bloodlines lead back to a pre-Civil War-era vice president, John C. Breckenridge. Another branch of the Breckenridge family tree is said to lead to one of my favorite singers of the rock 'n' roll era, Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane. That makes us distant cousins. Very distant.
On the darker side of family connections, Michael McKean of Youngstown, Ohio, writes in his blog, GeneaBabble, about the unsettling discovery two sisters made while researching their family's history using records that are centuries old.
One story making the rounds gives a tip on how to deal with the black sheep of your family. When a family historian discovered that a relative had been publicly hanged, he wrote about the incident: "He died during a public ceremony, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed beneath him."
What about you? What surprises have you found in your family's history?