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A Family of Black Sheep

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Often they have individual members who contribute to society in ways that benefit everyone. Mine, not so much. One could describe many of our relatives as black sheep ancestors, or those who behaved in disreputable or disgraceful ways.

When I found a new branch of my dad’s family this year, I should not have been surprised to find that it, too, is peopled with black sheep. Every one of my dad’s grandparents had skeletons in the closet:

  1. Reed. My great-grandfather left his family and squandered his inheritance on fruitless land speculation. A Reed cousin defected to East Germany during the Cold War.
  2. Riddle. A distant great-uncle sued his brother over the family farm, leaving his sibling destitute and without means to make a living. Another brother served time for larceny and then became a reclusive sheepherder in Montana.
  3. Ryan. Over three generations, these men abandoned their children, either leaving them to be raised by relatives or placing them in orphanages. Some cousins were Nebraska bootleggers during Prohibition.
  4. Sherman. These blacksmiths believed in homemade money. Several were arrested for counterfeiting. One was shot and killed in his bed by a disgruntled associate.

As I uncover more of this doubtful legacy, I begin to wonder about the advice our great-grandfather Reed left with his offspring. He told them, “You inherited a good name, now keep it that way.”

Oh, the irony.

 

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