Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Family Secret? Or Gossip Around Town?

Whenever I've run across an outrageous story about a distant family member—say, something like the news articles we've recently stumbled upon, regarding the young aviation student shot point-blank upon landing his craft at an airfield—I've wondered how many members of the family actually knew about the event.

Take the story of John Syme Hogue that I found a year ago while researching my own mother's line—the incredible story of the safe cracker who kept getting away, even when his luck seemed to run out and he actually shot a law enforcement officer. I tried (very circumspectly, of course) to contact current family members who have worked on that same family tree at Ancestry, to strike up a conversation in hopes of detecting whether the man's descendants were even aware of his murky past, but have had no response.

It leaves me wondering whether such news stories even get passed down by family from generation to generation. Or are these the types of stories which prompt the older generations to say, like my own father, "Aaah, you don't wanna know that."

I've heard other people mention how their parents or grandparents were reticent when it came to talking about the past, especially about family members long gone. Sometimes, it was just due to the taciturn personality of the individual being questioned. But other times? Might it have been symptomatic of skeletons in the closet?

Because this situation with Arthur James Daugherty was different—after all, I only knew about this news story as of last week because of the news clippings linked as hints to his file at Ancestry—I took the opportunity to write to the person originating the link. I can't tell how close that relationship is, but if the person is willing and able to give us a behind-the-scenes report, there are a few things I'd like to ask.

For one thing, I'm curious how many of the Daugherty family back home in Perry County were aware of what happened to one of their native sons. Was this the gossip on everyone's lips, back in Somerset, Ohio? Or was it circumspectly hushed in consideration of the grieving—and likely, surprised—family?

Then, too, I'm sure the question on everyone's mind had to be: was he guilty as accused? Was A.J. Daugherty really a smuggler? Or was he just the unfortunate innocent caught in the crossfire of misinformed but zealous law enforcement agents?

Of course, these are factors which seem to have no bearing on genealogical research—but for those, like me, who have self-styled their research as family history, these questions are quite pertinent to our goals of accessing a fuller picture of the individuals who people our family trees.

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