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Genealogy and Finding the Black Sheep in Your Ancestry

Updated on July 21, 2011
My greatgrandfather, William Malone (Bill) Jackson (far left) along with two of his sons and some friends
My greatgrandfather, William Malone (Bill) Jackson (far left) along with two of his sons and some friends

W.M. Jackson Obituary

Sometimes we find our ancestors weren't so perfect....

I've done a lot of research over the past couple of years trying to find answers to who my ancestors were. I had hit a brick wall with my grandfather and his father on my mother's side. They were both named William but had different middle names. Jackson is a very common name and there are hundreds of William Jacksons out there. However I found a William M. "Bill" Jackson living in Oklahoma in the early 1900s, but his family members were not members I recognized. I knew my mom was born in Oklahoma but there was never much mentioned about her grandfather, only her father, my grandfather. I didn't know my grandfather Jackson at all, he died when I was only two years old. So this fueled my determination to find out as much about his family as I could. It turned out to be a slow undertaking, but I finally hit paydirt, emphasis on the dirt!

A few months ago, a woman contacted me on Ancestry and told me I had some information wrong on my tree. I wrote her back and asked how she was related to the person in question and she replied that her husband was indeed related to the William M Jackson I had on my tree, and proceeded to ask me questions about my family. At first I wasn't sure if we were really related, because I hadn't really gotten any proof about the proposed entries on my tree. Turns out she had plenty of proof, and much much more!

William M Jackson had moved from Mississippi in the early 1900s to Oklahoma, and for good reason. He was involved in a very highly publicized murder trial in 1902 in Oxford, MS. A local bootlegger had murdered two federal marshalls who had come to arrest the bootlegger. My great-grandfather had been at the bootlegger's house the night of the murder but had left before the murders took place. During the trial however, the bootlegger tried to place blame on everyone he could, and my great-grandfather was implicated and sentenced to life imprisonment. He protested during the sentencing saying he was innocent, but the court sentenced him anyway. He asked for a pardon a few years later and was granted the pardon. That's when he moved his entire family to Oklahoma, to get away from the controversy. The bootlegger and an accomplice, however didn't get so lucky, they were hanged after being found guilty of murder.

Still not 100% convinced that this was even my relative, I went to my aunt and started asking questions. William M. was indeed my great-grandfather, she confirmed that and even told me the middle initial M stood for Malone. When I started telling her about the information I dug up, she confirmed that too. Turns out that my grandmother and grandfather lived with WIlliam M when they first got married in Oklahoma. They adopted my uncle in Oklahoma City before my mom was born in 1931. In 1930 the census showed my grandmother and my uncle living with her mother and siblings in Texas. That's when my grandmother had found out the ugly truth and turned against my great-grandfather and left her husband to return to Texas. Apparently my grandmother returned to Oklahoma and lived with my grandfather again, but not with William M. They had gotten their own place and my mother was born soon after. Sometime after that, they moved back to Texas. William M died the year my mother was born.

Unfortunately, my grandmother didn't accept her father-in-law because of his past. When I read the accounts of the events that took place back in November of 1901, I can see that he was caught up in something he couldn't control, simply because of the company he kept. How many times in the present has that happened to a family member at one time or another. Back then it was bootlegging, today its drugs and an assortment of other vices. My grandmother judged my great-grandfather on his past, not the man he was then. This happens a lot today as well, but one thing I have learned, family is still family no matter what they have done. A mother still loves her child no matter what, she may not accept what he has done, but she still loves the child. Family bonds are meant to be greater than that.

Am I embarrassed about my great-grandfather? Not in the least. He associated with bad people, got caught in the middle, but he prevailed in the end. From what I gather, he led a relatively simple life in Oklahoma, and didn't get involved with shady characters again. His other children, siblings of my grandfather, had families so there are a number of cousins and relatives out there who have no idea I exist, or maybe they are in my boat, they have done research and know just a bit about me. I would love to get to know these family members, but it may never happen. Are they upset with my grandmother because she turned her back on their father? Do they judge me because of her? I hope not. I don't hold anything against my grandmother but I do wish she could have looked past the circumstances and given her father-in-law a chance.

One good thing out of this - I have stayed in contact with the woman who originally contacted me and gave me the taboo information (my grandmother wouldn't talk about it when I asked about my grandfather's family years ago). Turns out her husband is my 2nd cousin once removed, and their children are my third cousins! She has also sent me several pictures of my "forgotten" family - a picture of my great-grandfather, whom I have never seen, looks just like my grandfather!! I have been invited to the next annual family reunion and I intend on attending, because I want to connect with family that I didn't know anything about until recently. Here's to finding the rest of my forgotten family members!

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