Finding “Bad” News

This is a map of the locations of newspapers that reported the criminal assault (a sanitized version of attempted rape) of my grandmother.1)I only used for this search and used the filters “Stumpf” and date range of 9 Jan 1909-28 Feb 1909. There were 77 locations.

Each map pin represents a town where a newspaper reported her assault with her name, and often her father’s name. Sometimes newspapers reported graphic details; for example, her attacker almost bit through her lip. Some newspapers focused on Judge Witt’s quick action to avoid a lynching. Others focused on the heinous nature of the attack. Still other focused on my grandmother’s incredible fight for her virtue (she was headed to confession before Mass) and her life.

The kicker: No one alive in my family knew this. What do genealogists do when a “secret” gets uncovered? Some thoughts:

1. Check your feelings. Then don’t.

This is my grandmother. Even though I never knew her (she died 3 months before I was born), I was given her first name for my middle. Time gives emotional distance, of course. But, putting myself in her shoes… I simply can’t. It’s clear from reports that she was very badly beaten. Facts from court records, state that she testified against her attacker 4 days later and again 2 days after that. Can you imagine?

But, try very, very hard not to let your personal feelings cloud your research.

2. Only the facts, ma’am.

Keep to what records tell you. Don’t speculate. But be curious. What else is out that that might shed more light on the story?

3. Own your ancestors, but not their actions.

Slave owner? Criminal? Tory Loyalist? Dishonorable discharge? These stories do not reflect on you AT ALL. Keep your good emotional boundaries.

4. Research every detail of the story.

In my grandmother’s case, I have a list every person from the arresting officers, to jury members, to the accused’s sisters are being researched. I have a city map that I’ve marked with locations. I have a timeline of the crime. I’ve created family trees for the major players in the story – the judge, the defense attorney, the jurors and the accused. I’ve begun researching Jim Crow laws (her attacker was black.) Find the larger context and expand the story. My grandmother’s attacker has a story, too. One worth telling.

What do you do when you find “bad” news?


References   [ + ]

1. I only used for this search and used the filters “Stumpf” and date range of 9 Jan 1909-28 Feb 1909. There were 77 locations.

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