Black Sheep

Lake District SheepKim Cattrall learned on this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? that her grandfather was a bona fide black sheep. Her grandfather, George Baugh, left his young family—his wife and three daughters—and married again without taking the trouble of obtaining a divorce. He then fathered four more children with his second wife, who apparently never knew about her husband’s first family.

The episode made me think of the mysterious black sheep in my family, and when Kim Cattrall started her search, she had little more information about her grandfather than I do about my own ancestor. His name is Frank Chatman, or at least that’s all my grandmother’s birth certificate says. His place of birth is conjectured to be Kentucky. His age is given as 25 in 1929, which makes his birth year about 1904. His occupation is given as “convict” and his residence the “Kentucky State Penetenchury” [sic].

Obviously it’s a sensitive topic, and family members that might feel concern over the story are still alive. However, the reason I decided to write about it is that no one living has anything to be ashamed about, nor have they done anything wrong. You don’t get to choose your relatives.

I would love to know what he did, but so far, my efforts to find out have been hampered by my inability to take a trip to Kentucky and dig up more evidence. I know a professional genealogist could probably get to the bottom of the story. An archivist with the Commonwealth of Kentucky did try to help me, but she didn’t uncover much. She found two possible candidates, both of whom were incarcerated for willful murder, but no really solid, definitive leads. I have a hunch the search will be complicated by the fact that my great-grandfather’s name was probably not exactly “Frank Chatman.” Frank might have been a nickname, and his last name could have been Chapman or any of the other soundex varieties one might expect. Searching my grandmother’s family has revealed that folks were not too particular about spelling names correctly or even the same way twice, and census records have been downright difficult to search. I’m hoping the 1940 census will reveal some leads when it comes out next year. I have, on the other hand, been able to construct a sad, if skeletal, story about my great-grandmother, who lost two small children during infancy—one to dysentery, of all horrors. My great-grandmother herself died fairly young before the age of 60 of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, Frank Chatman, or whatever his name is, will have to remain a mystery until I have a little more time to devote to the detective hunt or unless I win Ancestry.com’s Ultimate Family History Journey Sweepstakes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: llamnudds

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