1920s Ball

Notorious Relatives: Researching People and Family Stories Outside the Law 

March 28, 2022 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. ET
Access to course recordings and materials starts March 21
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Presented by Russell Shorto, David Allen Lambert, and Debby Applegate

Most of us have “black sheep” in our families; some have relatives who went a step further, outside the law, leaving little trace of their activities, aliases, and far-flung whereabouts.  They pursued fame and fortune in dark corners, or, worse, their motives were not clear. Still, we want to know. From bootleggers to Broadway want-to-bes, petty thieves to gambling ringleaders, murderous mob men to celebrated “madams,” the infamous can be found.   

This online conversation course brings together professionals from a variety of fields to discuss researching outside the law: how to take up the task and techniques of a detective to access solid sources, newspaper coverage to FBI files, and connect with friends and family members, past and present, who may shed light on the shadows. Our panelists will share inspiring stories, some of them personal, about their own research and drive for truth.  

Through a combination of instructive videos, educational resources, and a lively panel discussion, this unique course will give you the traction and tools you need to further your own research.


This online seminar includes:

  • Exclusive access to more than two hours' worth of instructive videos, plus downloaded slides, handouts, and other educational materials;
  • 90-minute live conversation and Q&A with our panel of experts;
  • Access to all course materials and unlimited replay of all videos


Russell Shorto is the best-selling author of The Island at the Center of the World, Amsterdam, and Revolution Song, and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. His most recent work, Smalltime, reveals his own family and their secrets related to organized crime. Enlisting the help of family, Shorto traced his family’s history from a brawny postwar Pennsylvania factory town to a dusty hill-town in Sicily.   

David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist at NEHGS, is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His work has been published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. As co-host of the Extreme Genes podcast, David collects stories of infamous ancestors and helps patrons uncover their own family history.  

Debby Applegate is a historian (Ph.D., Yale University) and biographer. Her most recent book, Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age, brings us behind-the-scenes in New York during the glamorous high-stakes years of Prohibition. Her first book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography.


Image Credit: 1920s Ball, Hood Collection. State Library of New South Wales