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  • Closet Skeletons

    Janet Delorey

    Published Date : October-December 1984
    Whatever prompts us to identify our ancestors, most of us would confess to the fantasy that, somewhere, tucked in the branches of our family trees, are a bevy of Mayflower antecedents or Royal forebears. If we cannot find these, we are proud of our pioneer stock -- that hard scrabble lot who wrestled with the land and survived. None of us is ever prepared for honest to goodness closet skeletons!

    And, so it was, that in poking the branches of my family tree, I pushed aside leaves that revealed a very crooked limb! It was definitely a day of disillusionment -- the big fat envelopes destined to contain some genie goodies, so I thought, were to dash my attempt to portray a particular family as "poor but honest."

    The first affidavit was dated 1741 and it spelled out in great detail what was probably one of the first organized crime rings. My good old Yankee stock was NOT busily wrestling with the land; they were wrestling, or better yet, rustling, the oxen from their neighbors, slaughtering them in the woods, ferrying them by boat to Long Island where the "hot" beef was fenced -- my ancestor naturally being THE fence! "Well," I mused to myself, "at least this probably explains why they left Massachusetts for Maine." And, to console myself, I decided that not everyone could have the dubious distinction of descending from one of the earliest Bosses in organized crime.

    The second document in that envelope was a suit brought against a nephew of my racketeer ancestor. Now, understand that I had really felt great sympathy for this nephew as he had been falsely charged with trading with the enemy during the Revolutionary War; tossed into jail where he darn near froze to death and his petitions were piteous indeed. I should have saved my sympathy. "Nephew" was charged with forging a receipt on monies owed -- to yet another uncle. Oh my After denying the charge, he finally fessed up and, for his "vile and pernicious deed" was put in the pillory with the word "FORGER" affixed to his breast, after which he served a month in jail. Since I am fairly sure that I do descend through "nephew" I had to find some rationalization. It seems appropriate to ponder on the fact that, in 1752, he could only affix his "X" to a petition but within ten years had developed a fine autograph. Does it not seem reasonable that he was so enamored with his new found art form that he practiced his artistry by writing other people's names?? Of course, one wonders if "nephew" thought his illiterate uncle to be so stupid as to not know what was going on, or, if "nephew" himself was so stupid as to not realize that the witnesses whose names he forged were very much alive and willing to testify? Let us be kind and consider him to be creative in his attempts to avoid repayment of his just debts -- and to remember that the historian of the area in which he lived referred to "nephew" as a ''prominent citizen.

    Yet another document revealed that the person who brought charges of trading with the enemy against "nephew" was none other than the same uncle to whom the monies were owed! The skeletons were now rattling in the closet in full force as it became apparent that this family did not like each other one bit!

    But, "forged against" Uncle had his own problems. There seemed to be no end to the family woes as the last document deposed that his son was caught stealing a silver watch in Boston. In fairness, the rightful owner did lay the watch down and Uncle's son, evidently still playing the old game of "Finders-Keepers" conveniently picked it up. Creativity evidently ran in the family as the son immediately joined the Patriot cause, was shipped out but, alas, captured by the British and languished in Old Mill Prison. Justice was not to be denied.

    That was the first envelope! As I opened the second, I had no sense of foreboding that this was to be, indeed, a day to forget. I had requested census data on a member of this family and there it was: age 16, born in Maine, resided in Westboro, Massachusetts, BUT in the State Reform School for pilfering! A major Excedrin headache was definitely in the making.

    Well, Great Uncle Levi always said, "Don't ever try and trace that family as they were a bunch of pirates." Now, pirates, with their rather glamorous, swashbuckling image, I could take. But, crime bosses, forgers, petty thieves -- now really!

    Am I scandalized? Not me! If I can't figure out a way to make them "colorful" or better yet, prune that family from my tree, I will simply say that I am adopted!!

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