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Skeletons in the Closet
11/1/2008
A good scandal can liven up your family history, but how do you get the dirt without rattling your relatives? Follow these five tips for bringing old family secrets to light.
 
Chris Boeman had heard his paternal fifth-great-grandfather, a respected attorney, owned a prestigious New Jersey tavern. In an effort to flesh out a portrait of his illustrious ancestor, he searched local court records, thinking he'd find more good news. Instead, he discovered a scandal. It turns out the attorney's son, Boeman's fourth-great grandfather, was a shyster. “David Boeman started all these businesses with borrowed money and never paid anything back,” Boeman says. David bankrupted his own father, who went to debtor's prison, then borrowed money from his wife's father. “He basically spent his kids' inheritances — on both sides.”

Perhaps you, too, have a bad businessman in your family tree — or a “premature” baby, a scandalous romance or a flat-out scoundrel. “If you haven't found something embarrassing, you just haven't looked hard enough,” Boeman says. Even though scandals can make your clan's history a real page-turner, longstanding secrets have the potential to ruffle feathers even decades after the fact.

Like any good researcher, you want to get into that closet and dig up the dusty stories, but how do you find out the truth? Here, several genealogical ghost busters share their experiences to help you research, reveal and reconcile with the skeletons in your family closet.

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