People Share The Wildest Discoveries They Made About Their Ancestry
Not everyone has the fortune of knowing their family history. But for those who do, it's amazing what we can uncover about our ancestors, who they were, and how they lived.
These Quora users found out something worth sharing about their family tree. Not all of them liked what they found!
[Source listed at the end of the article.]
"My maternal grandmother immigrated to the USA from Lithuania in 1912. She didnt talk much about her past and we had no contact with her side of the family. When she passed away, we figured we would never get back in touch with them, since she was our only link.
Then a few years ago, out of nowhere, we received a letter from a cousin in Lithuania who wanted to know about our family in the USA. When we responded, asking to hear about their family too, our cousin shared an incredible revelation.
In 1912, Grandma had been all set to sail to New York City on the Titanic. When her family had heard the news about the tragedy, they assumed she had perished and held a funeral for her.
A couple of months later, they got a letter from her saying that she came over on the RMS Carpathia--which in fact came to the rescue and saved 705 survivors from the lifeboats of the Titanic. She was in New York City, safe and sound. She had arrived too late for the Titanic, missing the boat by only a few minutes!
Why my grandmother never told us this incredible story, I cannot imagine. Perhaps the actual tragedy of the Titanic felt so real and close to her, that she wasn't able to talk about it."
(1/2) "When I dug into family history, I discovered just the normal types of things. Like that my grandfather was an assassin.
His name was Mieczysaw Lemieszek. His first name means 'sword of glory,' but he was a century too late for swords, so he used wood. A heavy wooden club.
His specialty? Not Nazi soldiers, but Ukrainian collaborators in WWII. Traitors. He was born in Ukraine, but he identified as Polish. And Catholic.
Back in the late 80s, my granddad was getting up there in years. He had made it through WWII Europe with his very large family, and only lost 2 children. Luckier than most. He brought my 16 year-old mom to America and her 8 surviving younger siblings. I grew up hearing a ton of stories about their days in the Nazi camps. But I wanted them documented, before he was gone.
So one evening, after Id gotten out of the Army and went back home, I bought a bottle of Polish vodka and some Polish delicacies, dusted off my tape recorder, and prepared a whole bunch of blank tapes. I sat down with my grandfather, and he told me the whole story."
(2/2) "His entire family was placed in a work camp for most of the war. While there, he and his fellow workers were brutalized by the local Ukrainian civilian who had been chosen by the Nazis to act as Kapo, keeping the workers in line and often killing them randomly.
He and three others decided to stand up and fight. They banded together to form an assassin squad, trapped the Kapo in a storage cabin and took him out. He was replaced, so they then took out his replacement--and three more replacements after that.
As a result, my grandfather and his friends kept their families safe through the rest of WWII, since their acts of retaliation made the Nazi collaborators fearful of mistreating them. I got his entire life narrated on three 90 minute cassette tapes that night."
(1/2) "My paternal grandfather was a mean guy. A real jerk. My dad grew up in the Dust Bowl during the Depression and his family picked cotton for a living. My grandfather was so mean that my grandmother divorced him, which was completely unheard of in that era.
Anyway, my dad recently told us about when he was a tiny boy — about 3 or 4 years old and the year was about 1929 or 30. My grandfather moved the family to Cement City, near Dallas, Texas and opened a cafe.
Now, you have to realize that, according to my dad, my grandfather was the worst cook in the entire world. And I believe it. The first time I ever met him was when my family went to visit him for Christmas. When we arrived he had cooked up a batch of raccoon stew. Hed heat it up on the stove, grab a bowl, eat the stew, put the dish down for his old coon hound to lick, then pick up the bowl and put it in the cupboard. Oh and the stew? Hed push it to the back of the stove until his next meal. No refrigeration. My mom freaked out and bundled us all up and we went to a hotel.
But anyway, I digress. So my grandfather opened a cafe and it was quite packed with men. Now why would a cafe with horrible food be always packed with men? Because back behind the cafe, my grandfather was running a 24-hour illegal poker game… AND he was also making moonshine. Thats right. My grandfather was making hooch.
But wait, it gets better."
(2/2) "My dad only vaguely remembers this, however, his brother, Jack, who was about 34 years older than my dad, had a huge crush on a beautiful young lady, Bonnie, who came to work at the cafe.
She basically was working as a waitress, however, since my grandfather was running poker games and making illegal moonshine, it was up to her to take care of my father and my uncle. This lovely lady even made clothes for the two boys. She made them Sunday suits which they proudly wore.
One day she met a man and left with him. Just disappeared. My uncle Jack was especially hurt because she never even said 'goodbye.' Throughout his life, Jack would say that his first love was a beautiful lady named 'Bonnie.'
Heres the thing though. Even though they didnt have internet, tv or even access to a phone, everyone kept up with the news and gossip about Bonnie Parker. And her lover, Clyde Barrow. Dont recognize the names? Ill bet you would know them by just their first names: Bonnie and Clyde."
(1/2) "My great grandfather James Birchfield fathered a number of children by my great grandmother, the eldest of which was my grandfather, Samuel Henry. At some point, James decided he didn't want the responsibility of a wife and kids, so he abandoned them for another woman and they shacked up in another part of Wolfe County, Kentucky.
As the story goes, a few years later, a hard winter made food scarce, so James began stealing supplies… from his original family. His son Samuel, nearly grown and left to run the farm and provide for the family, somehow determined that the thief was his own, and now despised, dad.
Young Samuel laid in wait one night, planning to kill his father should he come by to steal from his own children. That night, Samuel caught his thieving skunk of a dad attempting to steal meat from the smokehouse."
(2/2) "Samuel held his father at gunpoint and might have killed him, but he could not bring himself to murder his own father. Samuel ordered his dad off the farm with the warning to never return.
Grandpa Samuel only spoke with his father one other time for reasons unknown. But it's said he met his father on horseback, was packing a pistol on his hip, and did not dismount.
That was the last time they spoke with one another.
My Grandpa Samuel passed when I was around 11 years old (I am now 56). I recall sitting on his lap and lighting his pipe. I can still smell that apple-flavored tobacco.
I am grateful to be related to him, but I can't say as much for my rotten great-grandfather James."
(1/2) "On a whim, I decided to research a family story that my grandmother used to tell. To my surprise, I easily found the real story and it was a doozy. Seems that the particular ancestor came to this country as… a transported convict. Not the story my grandmother knew at all!
To my amazement, it was easy to establish and, once I knew the basic fact, I was able to sit at my computer and find such things as the transcript of his trial at the Old Bailey, and his name on a passenger list of the ship that contracted to carry his particular bunch of convicts to the New World.
In a nutshell, he was an Irishman, born in Ireland before the first potato famine - about a hundred years earlier than the famous one. At some point, he emigrated to England and was living in London, working for a man with the same last name, possibly a relative. He was picked up while 'lobbing about' and accused of stealing and pawning a panel saw valued at 18 pence. He was convicted and sentenced to transportation for seven years."
(2/2) "During his transit, he managed to convince the people who would be selling the convicts contracts that he was a carpenter, specifically a ships carpenter. They sold his contract to a ship building firm so, instead of ending up in a plantation where 80% of the convicts died, his contract was purchased by a ship yard in Virginia where he married, worked, and raised a large family.
His oldest son fought in the Revolution and was rewarded by Virginia with a grant of 200 acres in Kentucky. That son and two of his brothers exercised the grant. The grant has been digitized and can be found on the Kentucky Secretary of States website.
I was truly gobsmacked to realize how much documentation was available and how easy it was to trace given the basic identity. And, I found my self tickled to death at the idea that the noble, Irish, freedom fighter Id heard about when young actually turned out to be a feckless, Irish, felon."
Back in 1662, King Charles II of England married the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza.
In those days, royal marriages were arranged like todays corporate mergers. The princesss financial advisor in the negotiations was a Portuguese businessman named Duarte da Silva. Turns out Duarte was my 9th great-grandfather.
(1/2) "I am writing this anonymously because, well, it is embarrassing and I don't want the world to know my family' disgrace.
Unfortunately, I am even going to have to leave out a lot of details so nothing can be traced back to either me or my children, who do not know.
My great-grandfather was a Nazi.
He wasn't a soldier and he wasn't some low ranking officer. He was a prominent SS member of the Nazi party. He was executed in Nuremberg after quite awhile on the run.
He also wasn't some innocent guy that got caught in a bad point in history. He was a Nazi, full of conviction to the very end. He had a very hands on approach to his evil and he more then deserved what he got in the end."
(2/2) "At first when I found out at a young age, I actually thought it was kind of cool to have such a prominent member of history in my family tree. I was ignorant, I was young. Later on, I would do more and more research and really come to understand that this was definitely nothing to be proud of.
My father has passed away and as far as I know he never told my mother. I, in turn, have never told my brothers and in fact the only one left alive that knows other then myself is my wife.
She had asked me just before we married what my deepest, darkest secret was. I felt compelled to tell her the truth. And I did. I must have drank half of a bottle of wine telling that story. After today it will never be told again."
"Im 15/16ths German. My mother and father came to America on totally different paths.
My paternal ancestors were German-colony farmers in Ukraine, recruited by Russias Catherine the Great. They came to America in the late 19th Century and farmed in the Dakotas and Wyoming. FDRs Civilian Conservation Corps brought my father to Washington state, where he met my mother. They were both itinerant field workers on the same farm.
My maternal ancestors were Amish who came to America in the late 18th Century. One of them left, and his descendants farmed across Middle America until one quit farming, came to Washington, and became a railroad molder. His three brothers followed and became molders, too. The Depression sent them into the fields to work.
Now the interesting part. Both groups came from villages about 100 miles apart in Germany.
The 1/16 was British. I havent yet figured out how she got tangled-up with Germans yet."
(1/2) "The only reason my grandmother and her brothers were ever born, was because of murder, kidnapping, assault, stealing, and running from the law. My ancestors were cold-blooded criminals, and truly awful human beings.
Here is how I was told the story:
My great grandfather was raised in the hills of Italy close to Naples. His family was extremely poor but has some land. They only made money by the older brothers traveling and being laborers. One day my great grandfather came home from his travels and told his mother he found the woman he wanted to marry.
She was beautiful and a strong worker who lived in a village close were he had worked. But there was the problem. She was already engaged to someone else. His mother told him he knew what to do about his problem.
My great grandfather traveled to the village with 2 of his brothers, and arrived there on her wedding day. My great-grandfather found out where the mans house was and killed him with an axe."
(2/2) "While traumatized by this event, my great-grandmother had not wanted to marry this man, and so after quite some time, she forgave my grandfather enough that they married.
My great-grandfather had killed a policeman, after robbing a bank and was being hunted. He ended up having to flee with his wife and son (my great uncle) to America (via Canada) in 1919. They lived in New York for many years, and had 3 more sons and a daughter (my grandmother).
My father still has an original copy of the 'Wanted for Murder' poster of my great grandfather."
"One of my relatives enlisted in the Union Army out of Missouri. He was captured by the Confederates and sent to Andersonville Prison. He cut his finger trying to eat a chicken bone that was thrown over the fence for the prisoners to eat and got severely ill. The Confederates thought he was going to die, and had the potential to spread the disease, so they released him.
Then he walked back to Missouri."
"I found out that the woman who I thought was my great grandmother, and who my grandfather thought was his mother, wasnt.
I have omitted last names in the following.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1897. To the day he died in 1984, he thought that Lillian was his mother. In reality his mother was Mary, who died a few months after he was born. Lillian was her sister - my grandfathers aunt - and after Mary died she moved in to help my great grandfather with his infant children. They were married in 1898.
So the woman who I thought was my great grandmother wasnt, but her parents were still my great great grandparents.
So far as I know, my grandfather never knew that Mary existed."
(1/2) "Back in third grade our class assignment was to present our family tree. My mother knew nothing and my father knew nothing. Our grandparents knew nothing. My family 'tree' looked like a horribly pruned shrub in a drought.
On presentation day my classmates, one by one, presented rich, leafy, family histories. Some had stories about long dead relatives. Some had photos. The fellow that impressed me the most bragged about how his distant ancestor came over on the Mayflower. I was in awe. This was 'ancient' history but so fabled it bordered on mythology. To my mind my classmate was like a genealogical rock star. His family was famous!
By the time it was my turn I was deeply embarrassed for not only my lack of knowledge, but a deepening suspicion that my family must be at the lowest rung of society. We were not educated and we had no history. I gave my presentation in dread and to little applause.
When I was about 18 by mother reconnected with her aunt Ester. Ester and her sister Irene had been collecting the family history for years. Ester brought with her an enormous book of family documents and photos. Suddenly I could see photographs of my great-grandparents in the 1890s. And there were birth record and death records kept in her parents' bible going back many generations."
(2/2) "My great, great grandmother came from Ireland during the potato famine, her son, became a pipe-fitter. And there, at the very beginning (Or end of the book) was verified proof that I too had ancestors on the Mayflower! My ancestors were Edward Fuller (son of Mathew Fuller) and Anne Lathrop.
It's silly to me now. But at the time it meant that my lineage proved that my family was daring, brave, earnest, principled and 'real.' We were not just a line of poor, uneducated, wastrels. We were pilgrims, tradesmen and women. We were 'respectable.'
And that classmate from the beginning of my story, turns out he is a cousin of sorts. We are distantly related! His ancestor was Edward Fuller (brother to Mathew Fuller)."
(1/2) "About 250 years ago, there was a wealthy Dutch merchant called Gerrit Bantjes. He was extremely annoyed when his son and heir to his fortune, Jan, refused to board the ship in Cape Town because he wanted to stay and marry a local lass. Gerrit was so annoyed, in fact that he disinherited young Jan and left his entire fortune in a trust for the benefit of any of his heirs who might be alive one hundred years later.
This caused tremendous excitement in about 1870 when lawyers from Witdorf in The Netherlands came to South Africa to see who they could find. Jan had turned out to be a fertile fellow here, and there were plenty of descendants living in Cape Town and Beaufort West, including my grandfather.
There were lots of descendants but, on the other hand, the fortune was huge with one hundred years of compound interest."
(2/2) "A family representative was duly dispatched with papers and information to prove the connection but there was some very underhanded dealing.
If no claimant came forward, the inheritance was to pass to the Dutch State and the Dutch State lawyers made damned sure that, whatever documentation was provided, more would be needed. Eventually the negotiations were interrupted by what is so obviously, looking back with the cynicism of a hundred more years, a dirty trick. The family rep was falsely accused of fraud, and was chucked out of the lawyers office.
No fortune came our way. And the papers that could have been used to renew the claim were lost in WWII. But the inheritance, apparently, is still there.
My grandfather went on to become a distinguished doctor and even has a disease (Alport Syndrome) named after him."
"So I decided to do a DNA test to see where I came from to follow up on the family tree.
As a son of Northern Europe, it turns out I have 2.7% Neanderthal genes.
As all Northern Europeans do to approximately the same degree.
These comments have been edited for clarity.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.