Monday, January 21, 2013

Finding unpleasant information about your ancestors

A while back, while digging around the Delaware County (PA) Online Newspaper Archive, I did a quick search for Charles McConnell. That was the name I had been given for my great grandfather, although I wasn't sure it was accurate until just recently.  I found a disturbing article about a crime committed by this man. At the time, I saved the article for future reference, unsure if this was my relative or not.

Now, I feel quite certain the man referenced in the article was in fact my great grandfather. In addition to some arrests for causing a disturbance while intoxicated, I found this article:

There are lot of things that would disappoint me if I learned my ancestors had done them. Things like abandoning one's children, adultery, having one's wife committed, etc. But learning you've got a rapist (or attempted rapist in this case), in the family tree is the most disturbing thing I've found, especially since he was attacking children1. I can't imagine anything I find later being much worse than this one.

Fortunately, this man was my paternal grandfather's father. I am not in contact with any living decedents from this family, so I don't have to worry about bringing up an bad memories for relatives, or having anyone feel that I am disgracing his name by discovering this. If this were on my mother's side, I would have to tread more carefully with whom I could tell.

In case anyone should think I am assuming Charles's guilt without properly researching it, I found a follow up article. On 08/06/1937, the paper reported that Charles McConnell was sentenced to 30 days in jail after complaints from several neighborhood parents that he had approached their young daughters2. Evidence that he approached them for "immoral purposes" was lacking, so that is why he got a short sentence. Lest you still think this guy is just getting a bad rap, he was again arrested, on 09/04/1937, a mere two days after he was released from jail. He was again charged with enticing minors3.

Unfortunately, the age given in the articles fits for my ancestor, Charles McConnell. The article discloses his residence as being in the 300 block of Upland Street. Other articles I found specify his address as 307 Upland Street. Charles's son, William, was born July 28, 1925 in Chester4. I found an article about William's 12th birthday party, dated 07/30/1937, which gives his address as 307 Upland Street5. This makes me fairly certain I'm dealing with the right family.

I am a little nervous about what else I will find on this guy now.

1 "Man Suspected of Enticing Tots," Chester Times, 03 Aug 1937, p. 2.
2"Today's Police Court Hearings," Chester Times, 06 Aug 1937, p. 16.
3"Mayor Sits as Police Judge," Chester Times, 06 Sep 1937, p. 2.
4Pennsylvania Department of Health, Vital Records, birth certificate 115688-1925 (1925), William Norris McConnell.
5"Gossip about People You Know," Chester Times, 30 Jul 1937, p. 8.


  1. The Delaware County Newspaper Archives is a great resource; I use it frequently. This is the site that informed me of my great aunt's suicide details, the activities of her Jewish mobster husband, and their son (including front page picture) who was the subject of a man hunt after being charged in a double homicide.

    Do you know if Charles ended up at Eastern State Penn? If so, the penitentiary is very helpful and what records they don't have, the State archives does.

    1. It's amazing the things you find there! Actually the last article I saw stated that Charles was going to serve six months in county jail. I do have another relative who was sentenced to Eastern State, but that was in the 40s and it seems the penitentiary doesn't have great records from that time.

    2. Kinda scary to think what genealogists are going to find on us 100 years from now. The Pennsylvania State Archives has most of the ESP records from that time; I've been able to a decent amount through the state archives, including the bertillon card. Unfortunately, they only have the bertillon cards for those incarcerated before March 1937.

    3. Have you tried and been able to locate anything helpful on someone incarcerated post 1937? I looked at the list of resources the state archives has a few months back, but I was a bit overwhelmed and unsure where to start. Put that one on the back burner for now.

  2. That's definitely unnerving. Great resource for you though! There's also a lot of PA newspapers at


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