I had planned to not use Ancestry.com this week as I continue to update my RootsMagic synched tree but due to an unexpected family contact, that didn’t happen. I needed to go on to check a relationship and add information to an individual that I hadn’t researched before due to family silence.
If your family is like mine, you probably have encountered situations that lead to uncomfortable communication between relatives. You might have had DNA results come back that show that someone isn’t biologically related. There may have been a nasty divorce, hurt over a probate or a disagreement over opinions. The falling out may have even been as a result of criminal conduct. Regardless of the cause, going forward can be difficult, especially if it has been years since the initial disconnect.
I was faced with establishing a reconnection this week and I’d like to share how I handled it in case you find yourself in my position.
Here’s the background…back when I was in college I remember my future mother-in-law calling my now husband. She was clearly upset as she relayed to him how an individual who had married into the family had been charged with several murders. You read that right – more than 1 murder. The final charge would be for 4 murders but there was a list of many more that would have occurred had the arrest not been made.
Understandably, my husband’s mother was shocked, sad, confused and angry. This was done by someone she trusted, knew for years and there had been no indications that the individual was this dangerous. Since my husband and I were living far from the crime, we didn’t have access to news stories of the trial and subsequent conviction of two life sentences. We didn’t know that 20 years after the conviction, the perpetrator would request that state supreme court to grant a new trial, that the original lawyer would have written a semi-fictional book about the case because it was so bizarre and that the lawyer’s son would feature the case in a podcast. In other words, even though the crimes were committed nearly 50 years ago, it is still in the news in the area where they occurred. Since we don’t live in that area we had no knowledge of any of this until this week.
I don’t know if my mother-in-law reached out to her blood relative to offer support during that difficult time. It became a taboo subject on that side of the family so, when I began my online family tree in the 1990’s, I didn’t update that line. Imagine my surprise this week when I received a message from a descendant of the murderer who was asking what my relationship to the family was.
Since this was not my relation, except through marriage, I immediately asked my husband how he wanted me to handle this – should I respond or not? If it had been my family I would have messaged back as the writer was not responsible for a heinous crime and I would consider the person a victim, too. But this wasn’t my family so I felt that I needed to hear what my husband would want. His parents are long deceased but had they been alive, I would have checked with them also.
My husband had no preference and told me he respected however I wanted to handle it as he knows I would be professional. I chose to respond, clarify the relationship and offered to update my tree if I had wrong info or if there was additional information to add. I got a response a few hours later thanking me for the information and informing me of a family member who was now deceased. I responded with condolences.
Interestingly, that deceased family member had relocated from the area where the murders occurred and lived a little over an hour away from us for nearly 10 years but had not reached out to us. Perhaps they were embarrassed by what had happened or hurt that we had not reached out to them in their time of need. I will never know.
Although not in this case, what I do know is that it can be difficult to re-establish a connection and sometimes severance is the best (and safest) option. I suspect, with the difficulties of the past year, people are re-evaluating relationships and becoming more aware of their mortality. As the world slowly begins to reopen, I wouldn’t be surprised if more relatives reunite. This could be a wonderful time to move forward if that is in everyone’s best interest. Be forewarned – this could be happening to you soon.