How do you write about In-Laws Antics?

Family History Writing Tips : When Relatives are Naughty

Family historians can really dig up a lot of interesting items. Newspapers find many of them. I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or shake my head and my distant uncle and his chase through the creek with his brother-in-law over a woman. But the real question is how should we record this tale when writing is family history?

 Here's the transcript of a newspaper article I found about Peter Sparks of St. Louisville, Ohio.

Bullock Chases Sparks through St Louisville Creek

Newark Daily Advocate
16 Sept 1896 
George Bullock Chased His Brother-In-Law
But Sparks, Young and More Slender, Kept Beyond Bls Reach - A St Louisville Sensation 
The little village of St Louisville in the northern part of this county, has a genuine sensation that has agitated the people more than anything that has occurred within the village precincts for many a day. It has set all tongues to wagging and has been a source of entertainment for all the gossips. 
The first intimation the villagers had of the affair was the sight of George Bullock chasing Peter Sparks through town yelling like a Comache and flourshing a razor of adult size As Mr. Bullock is a man about sixty years of age who tips the scales at about 200 pounds avoirdupois, he was unable to catch Sparks who is at least twenty years his junior and who weighs not more than 125 pounds. Thus it was that a cutting affray was averted. 
This exciting chase caused a general demand for explanation. Then it was the the following story came out. 
George Bullock, a well known and respected farmer living a half mile west of St. Louisville, and Peter Sparks, a village shoemaker, married twin sisters, the Martin girls. Mr. Bullock has been married ten years, his brother-in-law, about seven years, Mr. Bullock has three children. Mr. Sparks has none. 
The two families were very intimate and the Bullocks were at the Sparks as often as the Sparks visited the Bullocks. A few days ago Sparks went to Mr. Bullock's house for the purpose of helping Mrs. Bullock to arrange some shelving in her kitchen. While the work was going on Mr. Bullock lay in a hammock on a side porch but is said to have had his suspicion aroused and to have gone stealthily to the kitchen door. His suspicion is said to have been confirmed and thereupon he ran into the house, grabbed his huge razor and started in pursuit of his brother-in-law. The chase lasted for over a half mile, the pursued and pursuing man running through the creek on the way towards St. Louisville. Finally Mr. Bullock was so fatigued that he could continue the run no longer and he gave it up.
Spark remained away all that day and when he returned home found that his wife had literally taken up her bed and walked. She had removed her house hold effects from the Sparks home and had taken up residence in Mrs. Oldaker's house in another part of the village, refusing to live with her husband. 
Mr. Bullock threatened to kill Sparks but the threat has not been carried into execution. Mr. and Mrs. Bullock are living at their home west of the village. All but the talk is apparently over.

At first I want to laugh. I can see why a newspaper editor included this piece in their paper. It drew a lot of curiosity in the community and people or 'gossips' as the article states would certainly want to know the details. It is out of the ordinary for in-laws to be chasing each other in this fashion. So again, this piece meets the standard for newsworthy.

But then I feel sad. Was there a misunderstanding by the older gentleman? Did he have insecurities that misinterpreted the intentions of his brother-in-law? Did he see things that weren't there? Did his insecurities or temperament drive his wive toward Mr Sparks? This article is a snapshot of a greater story and I wonder what all the fine details truly are.

As a family historian, how do we incorporate our discoveries in our writings? I'm not of a mind to hide things I find or whitewash someone's past. I don't want to great an unrelatable superhero out of our ancestors. But, I also don't want to mock someone when I surely have my own jest provoking incidents in my past.

This post can not offer concrete suggestions but invites discussion. What tips do you have for including pieces such as this into your family history? Please include your recommendations in the comments below so the community can benefit.


  1. As a family researcher, I would first call this incident to the attention of descendants of both of the twin sisters and ask whether they had ever heard any stories about it. It seems sensational but is also open to interpretation, as you indicated. Do you know whether the separation between husband and wife remained permanent?

    1. It doesn't appear that the younger man's relationship with his wife was a permanent separation. He's my great-great grandmother's uncle so I was most concerned with him. The other couple has not been fully researched.

      I like the approach. Ask the descendants. But if they've never heard about the story, then what?

      I also keep in mind the purpose of newspapers, to sell newspapers. These stories could be accurate or made up. Newspapers aren't always absolutely true, though often genealogy researchers appear to believe them to be. My minor in Journalism tells me a different story.


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