One kind of ancestor that genealogists may or not look forward to finding is a “black sheep” or “skeleton in the closet.” Researchers often chuckle about the so-called “horse thief” in the family. In some instances, there’s “that relative” that everyone knows about but nobody talks about. Black sheep ancestors are people who made bad or questionable choices, committed some kind of crime, or did something considered scandalous or roguish in their day. Several factors can determine how much researchers choose to reveal about such ancestors, depending on the type of misdeed, how long ago it occurred, and the presence and feelings of living relatives. There is no “blanket” answer to this question; each instance should involve looking at the ramifications of sharing. Probably the most important consideration involves living descendants and how discoveries might affect them. Some descendants may be fine with public knowledge of what happened, while others...
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