If you were invited to have your genealogy traced on a television show such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” or “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr,” would you do it?
Would your “yes, of course” quickly be given, or would you take a minute to think about what possible secrets might reveal themselves, never again to be relegated to the “we don’t talk about that” corner?
You would think Ben Affleck, internationally famous actor, screenwriter and producer, whose years-ago relationship with singer Jennifer Lopez once was the No. 1 focus of paparazzi around the world, would know as well as anyone that, really, “there are no secrets.”
In the past year, Affleck found himself among other such well-knowns as Bill Paxton, Anderson Cooper and Ken Burns, who turned out to have ancestors who owned slaves. Paxton, though sorry to find this truth among his forebears, was interested to peruse documents which showed arrangements one ancestor had put in his will to provide for the future of some of those slaves.
Ben Affleck’s slave-owning ancestors did not make it into his episode of “Finding Your Roots” because he asked Henry Louis Gates Jr., the African-American host of the program, to keep that information out.
And after consulting with an executive of the program, Gates did exactly that — a decision several news stories said was reached “independently.”
This is television. Of course, the most “interesting” bits of information are going to be highlighted.
And, of course, now the secret is out — not the secret that Affleck’s ancestors owned slaves but that he asked to have it kept out of the television program. He wanted to cover it up.
That now is a far bigger story than the original information, and Affleck has now said he regrets making the request to keep it quiet.
My late grandmother, Ione Moore, once asked me never to tell my baby son about Colby Moore, the Monson man sent to the Maine State Prison in the 1880s for hiring someone to blow up a doctor’s office with what we would call a Molotov cocktail.
There are various stories about Colby Moore, about him being a rather difficult person who was the plaintiff in various civil suits in court, if I remember correctly.
Quite obviously, I do talk about Colby Moore. It’s important to me people know no one was in the doctor’s office when it was blown up.
There may be more than one theory as to the reason for Colby’s actions, but this one we can document: His son, Roy, died at age 7 and very possibly he blamed the doctor for not being in town at the time.
Thirdly, Colby’s 1894 death certificate lists him as a “carriage maker” who died in Thomaston. Carriages included hearses, such as the elegant 1895 model made at Maine State Prison and donated to Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor by the Town of Medway.
When I give youngsters tours at the museum, I always point out the hearse and say it probably is “like the ones my great-great-grandfather made when he was there.”
Are there possible secrets that would make me think twice about having my genealogy profiled for national television? Sure there are. I worry several of my Stief cousins in Germany may have been Nazis.
While there are lots of wonderful things to find out in genealogy, some are the exact opposite. Good, bad or indifferent, they are a part of me, and it behooves me to do the best I can with whoever I am.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email email@example.com.