What skeletons are in your family closet?

My mom has a relative that married a first cousin. They’re the only family members that left the Cleveland/Pittsburgh area. They are the California branch of the family.

Mom’s aunts and uncles were all born in America, except the youngest one who was born in Slovakia. Her grandparents came here from Slovakia and set up their family, but then started fighting so her grandma up and went back home to Slovakia for a while, where she had their last baby.

One of the families that used to go to my church had a very generic, bland last name (for the US), in fact it is one of names commonly used as a placeholder or sample name here (e.g. on sample forms, etc.). It turns out that they intentionally changed their name upon emigrating to the US - their previous name was the same as a prominent mob family. Not something they really wanted as they weren’t involved in that and didn’t want to be stereotyped.

Let’s see. Off the top of my head, two murderers (both women I think), a child labour enthusiast, my great grandfather diddled the maid and the resulting kids were brought up by my great grandmaother. She later went completely crazy and jumped off a third storey balcony into a greenhouse.

And a great great grandfather had the dubious honour of making an entire species of bird extinct. He was a very famous taxidermist though.

No one in my family was actually in the mafia (to the best of my knowledge) we just knew some of them (including at least one of the people depicted in Goodfellas). We still know some of them and had some business dealings with them in days gone by. Many many years ago. My dad, back in the day, ended up in court over it and, while they were still dating, my mom thought it was ‘really cool’, that when they’d be out driving they were being tailed by the FBI (CIA?).

It’s all part of being Italian, being in Milwaukee and being in the produce business.

She was a Communist?

What gets shat in Vegas stinks in Vegas.

I was with a group of Americans there in 1987. We were made to feel welcome but had flown into Managua rather than crossed the border. Spent much of our time in Matagalpa province in the North.

As for me, I am distantly related to Orval Faubus, the Arkansas governor who took a stand against the desegregation of the Little Rock School District in 1957. He was either a brother or a cousin of my great-grandmother in Arkansas, whose maiden name was Faubus. Or possibly he was even her nephew, as I see now that he was much younger than she was.

Nothing as far as I know. We are supposed to be related to a murder victim but I haven’t been able to make the link. That would be Abraham Lincoln.

A relative of mine had his wife run off with the Fuller Brush man. He followed them to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and killed both of them, and spent many years as a guest of the state. I met him once or twice, but I was too young to ask many questions.

I found out from my grandmother in her dotage that she had carried out a long-term relationship with a married man.

My wife’s grandparents were bootleggers, and were divorced shortly after her grandfather expressed some concern that their youngest son was actually related to him.


My great-great-great (great?) grandfather shot and killed his husband’s wife. At the trial, he acted like he only spoke German and the judge requested leniency in any sentence because of it. He actually was born and raised in the US and English was his first language.

Because of this entire scene, the other branch of the family decided to distance themselves by adding a “t” to the spelling of the family name. With a t, you’re the descendants of the victim’s side. Without a t, you’re the descendants of the murderer’s side.


One of my ancestors was supposedly tried for witchcraft, but found innocent. That’s how I’d always heard the story, anyway. Then a cousin did some research and discovered that she wasn’t the accused, but the accuser. Fortunately, there was no trial, possibly because the woman she accused was well-connected. This was centuries ago, and nobody in my family much cared.

Great-Grandpa ran a speakeasy and made bathtub gin in Milwaukee during Prohibition.

9 x great grandma got hung for witchcraft in Salem, MA in 1692.

Another ancestor hunted for and burned witches in the Netherlands in the early 17th century.

One ancestress in 17th century MA was publicly chastised for pushing the woman next to her off the pew during a sermon.

Lots of people with mental problems on my maternal grandmother’s side. Mostly major depression; a few committments, a few suicides, things like that. I have a great grandfather who was supposedly killed by a lightning strike; the more I think about it, he probably killed himself out in the field, and the lightning was a good cover story to tell the kids.

I call stealth brag on both of these.

I had an uncle who was an alcoholic, relatively rare among Jews. He OD’d on sleeping pills, possibly a suicide, possibly in a drunken stupor. The coroner ruled the latter. Meantime, his first disappeared shortly after they were divorced. A man who is obsessed with creating a family tree finally tacked down my long-lost cousins on the basis of her maiden name (which I was the only person still alive who recalled). She had said she was marrying a physicist and moving to Texas. In fact, she and her second husband went to Los Alamos where he worked on the Manhattan project. I know from Feynman’s biography that the people going there were requested to conceal their destination. Of my two lost cousins, one fell off a mountain in Peru around 1970, leaving one young son who fell off a mountain in the Rockies about 1990. The other married but never had natural children although she adopted a couple. She died around ten years ago. So none of my family ever saw any of them again.

Oh boy, where to start. My mom’s family is full of them. The biggest one is my many-greats grandfather John Billington, Mayflower passenger and the first person convicted of murder in the New World.

My four-greats grandmother caused a minor scandal by marrying her father-in-law very shortly after her husband died.

My great-grandfather had two wives and ten children that we knew about up until recently. My cousin’s research found a third wife and two more kids that no one had ever heard about. The recently discovered third wife was actually wife #2 chronologically. My great-grandmother was wife #3, she knew about wife #1 but not #2.

A great-uncle ran around with Al Capone in Chicago.

My cousin doing the research has hinted that there’s even more weirdness that she’s uncovered. She’s coming to town this summer, I can’t wait to see what she’s found.

One of my ancestors had to leave South Carolina in the middle of the night, supposedly for beating a man to death. The crime was that the dead man was another person’s property.

Same side of the family - an even greater ancestor was the “mastermind” behind the Glencoe massacre.

My grandmother, from a staunchly Protestant New England family going almost all the way back to the Mayflower, married a Catholic. This would have been around 1920, and was a HUGE deal. Her family disowned her.

Although I don’t consider this particularly problematic, most Southerners in the US would not be thrilled to learn that one of my direct ancestors is one Gen. William T. Sherman. I have never been to Atlanta.

I had hoped that my mother, when doing the family genealogy, would find something juicy but, alas, the worst was a great-great-great grandfather that was a known horse-thief. Never hanged. I believe he decided to go west when the authorities got too close.

Yesterday, I met a descendent of John C. Fremont, the California explorer and politician. She seemed embarrassed about it. I thought it was pretty cool, even if Fremont was a bit of a bastard.