Family Feuds Or The Spice Of Genealogy

From left to right. Back Row; Pauline Bonnett, Florence Bonnett and Claude Bonnett.  Front Row Harry Bonnett, Bessie Barney Bonnett, Verna Bonnett, and Mary Guyette Barney Douglas. Picture taken about 1913.

From left to right. Back Row; Pauline Bonnett, Florence Bonnett and Claude Bonnett. Front Row Harry Bonnett, Bessie Barney Bonnett, Verna Bonnett, and Mary Guyette Barney Douglas. Picture taken about 1913.

The pictures in this post were an incredible find. I obtained them by contacting a person who had a family tree listed in ancestry.com. While it was not very complete, it held some information that caught my interest. I sent a request to the tree owner asking if we could exchange information. I believe this is something we all should do as it helps us all in our genealogy research. I cannot understand why some of us are so reluctant to share our information. This time however I hit the genealogy jackpot. I was soon put in touch with Julia, who was the keeper of the family records. She was to send me old family letters, pictures, property transfer records, and newspaper articles. What she gave me that was more important than all of those things was a lesson in my family’s history.

The picture above shows my twice great grandmother, my great grandmother, and my grandmother. It also shows my great aunts and uncles. However my Great Aunt Florence, who is standing next to my Grandmother Pauline, was a relative I had never known. It would be her little branch of the family tree that would in time move to Texas. It was from Texas back to New York that the flow of information would come to me.

Feuds are not new to any family. I think I can say this without exception that all families have them. If you think your family might have immunity, I will advise you to dig deeper. In fact, my Great Grandmother Bessie and her mother my twice Great Grandmother Mary had their feud. I learned about this in the family letters that Julia sent to me. Mary was to write how it hurt her when she met her daughter Bessie on the street she would turn her head or cross the street to avoid being on the same side. From what I can tell by the dates of the letters the dispute was never settled as Bessie died in the 1918 flu epidemic just a few months after having a child.

From left to right. Florence Bonnett and Pauline Bonnett Picture taken about 1908

From left to right.
Florence Bonnett and Pauline Bonnett
Picture taken about 1908

What caused the family fight with my Great Aunt Florence and the rest of the family can be summed up in one-word money. From what Julia was able to tell me (Florence was her mother-in-law) Florence borrowed some money from her Grandmother Mary. Mary was a strong-willed person, and I heard many stories about her from My Great Uncle Harry and my Grandmother Pauline. She raised all of Bessie’s children after she died, except for the one born in 1918. Florence was already married (at age 14) at the time of her mother’s death, and was already making her own home. My Grandmother Pauline was married less than a month before her mother’s death, so both sisters were on their own. It seems that Florence was slow in paying back the money to Mary, her mother and I believe not all of it was paid back. Then in the early 1940s Mary signed over her house to Pauline and her husband. This may ( I think it did) have caused some hard feelings within the family, especially between Pauline and her sister Florence. It all came to a finale act in 1946 at the death of Mary. As was the custom then the wake was being held in the home. Florence had driven up from New York City to Plattsburgh, N.Y. a distance of about 300 miles. When she got to the front door of the family home, she was not allowed to enter and pay her respects to her mother. She ended up having to go back home without seeing her mother or anyone for that matter. As far as I know no other contact was ever made.

How far did this go? Let me give you two examples. When Florence died in 1965, she was still living in N.Y. State. I was 14 at the time. My mother, grandmother and all the aunts and uncles that lived near and in Plattsburgh, N.Y. never once spoke about it. At least when I was around. I would have remembered as I would have been learning about a sister I never knew my grandmother had or about my mother’s aunt. My mother died in 2007. By that time, I had had this information for a few years. I never told anyone about it. I wanted to see if it would come out on its own. However the last year of my mother’s life she was very sick and failing. While for many reasons we have not been close we started talking with each other, thanks to the efforts of my sister. My mother had a very clear mind and was able to tell me much family history. However, her Aunt Florence never came up. I did everything I could to get her to talk about her. Leading questions, and asking about grandma’s brothers and sisters. She never admitted to the existence of Florence.

Left to right Warren Tromblee and Florence Bonnett Tromblee Taken about 1942 / 1943

Left to right
Warren Tromblee and Florence Bonnett Tromblee
Taken about 1942 / 1943


The lessons I learned from all of this, are many. Genealogy wise it reinforced in me the importance of looking everywhere for family clues. Then we must follow up on what we find. We all hold information that can be so helpful to someone else doing research on the family. It is not our information to own but is to be shared so we all can learn. I am very thankful to the Tromblee family that they posted on ancestry.com and were so willing to share. They have given me family treasures that I hope are passed down for many generations.

One more lesson could be learned from this. Most family feuds and arguments are pure folly. Everyone involved in this dispute is dead. At the end when you think about it, what did it matter? Family lines lost, scattered, and unknown to each other. That is the legacy of this feud.

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81 Responses to Family Feuds Or The Spice Of Genealogy

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Even before reading… I just love the first picture.

  2. lbeth1950 says:

    Thanks for posting this fascinating story.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on Our Ancestors and commented:
    I haven’t read it yet but I am sure it is good.

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I was right. This is just a great post. We think alike.

  5. Amy says:

    Wow, I don’t know whether to be happy for you or sad. What a wonderful find! I’ve also made contact with many others through ancestry trees and learned a great deal, but nothing like this—all those pictures and letters. Wow.

    But then such a sad, sad story, and yes, every family has these feuds and schisms. I’ve certainly learned that doing genealogy. It is sad, yet also inevitable. Sometimes shared DNA is just not enough to create a lasting connection.

    Thanks for sharing your story and your wonderful find.

  6. Lorraine says:

    Yes, we have an ornery branch of the family too!

  7. Such a blessing — a family reunited!
    Sharing is a gift to future generations.
    thanks for sharing.

  8. Judy Barrette-Flint says:

    Yes Pierre, you are right! I have connected with so many cousins that it makes my head spin! But together we make amazing finds! And, yes, I have one cousin who has a VERY modest family tree on Ancestry, but something about what he did have led me to contact him. My God! The pictures he had to share of my family (and his)!! We were both so pleased! That’s how I found Pierre. We are 3rd cousins.

  9. This is such an incredible find and what a great story!
    You’re right, it is difficult for people that are willing to share so much to understand why others are unwilling to do the same.
    I once became so excited to *finally* find a photo on Ancestry from a branch where there has been very little information. When I received the image, it was only 15kb in size, too small to even see the person.
    It’s so nice to hear about the positive side in regards to making connections with distant relatives.

    • chmjr2 says:

      This was a great find made possible by people willing to share and tell family history. While not all my experiences contacting relative have been positive, this one and many others have been good.

  10. Great find. I had a similar experience when I contacted a descendent of my Great-Grandfather’s brother. He had a lot of family pictures that I wouldn’t of otherwise seen, and I gave him a much more extensive family tree. This kind of exchange is extremely important for genealogical research!

  11. Jim McKeever says:

    This is great, Charles. Some bittersweet finds, but you are correct — the information doesn’t belong to any one in particular, it is best shared and passed down. I couldn’t help but think of the feuds in my family (one still ongoing) and the secrets of generations ago that are buried along with my relatives. Thank you for all the legwork and storytelling you do. I love it. Jim

    • chmjr2 says:

      Feuds for the most part are just silly. Pride gets in everyone’s way and nothing good happens. I love doing the legwork (research) it is a fun part of genealogy. Putting the story into words is the hard part.

  12. Jimmy M. Sisson says:

    As always, another great story from you. Finding a treasure trove of pictures and info, and a sad story to go with it.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks once more for reading my blog and your kind words. Lets face it finding pictures, information and a great story is like hitting a grand slam homerun in genealogy.

  13. Beautifully written and a story many of us can relate to. How sad for all of you. As you say, all families have secrets, but I’ve always believed that secrets were destructive. I had a terrible shock when I learned, around the time my father died, that my mother had been married before she met my dad. She had hidden this from her children, had lied and made up stories. I’m still dealing with that betrayal. Even then, my mother begged me not to tell my older brother. I respected her wishes, but after she passed on, I did tell him because he had a right to know.

  14. mandorac says:

    After my grandmother had passed, I learned she been married at a young age before marrying my grandfather. You make a very valid point at the end of your story, did it matter? Thank you, as always, for sharing!

  15. Wonderful photos; how great that this person shared them with you. I guess we can learn from our ancestors’ feuds. From a distance they seem silly; causes one to pause and reflect!

  16. It is so very sad to hear of family feuds, but grateful that other generations can put the past behind and share lives once again! Thanks for the nice post!

  17. vernita8 says:

    This is a wonderful family story that shows how families can come closer together or stay apart, it’s their choice. But you have to have all the information to make an informed choice. I loved this post and ALL families have silly arguments about silly things that should not last forever.

    • chmjr2 says:

      You made some very good points. But I find that silly things seem to last and last. We may not know it but most if not all of us have been affected by a family feud. Even if we have no idea that there was one.

  18. jenorv says:

    We have all discovered our “Julias” those very generous people who give more than they take. It is sad when someone “copyrights” a photo, it serves only their ego and really doesn’t help those who do so much to help others. I have seen very selfish people on a popular grave location site who think just because they post a picture they own the grave and data. That’s not what we all are about. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • chmjr2 says:

      We should try to be a Julia. I have many pictures and stories that I have sent out. All I ever ask is that they at least give me some credit as I did for Julia. But if they don’t they don’t. I prefer that the information be placed in all our hands.

  19. What a wonderful way to bring a disconnected family back together; you reached out and Julia responded with kindness.

    You are right in saying we all have these types of stories in our family trees. We may not know of them when we start out, but as we research they are bound to surface.

    I think everyone who shares DNA has a claim to photos of their family. Its so nice that Julia felt the same way. What a gift you have given each other!

  20. ruthrawls says:

    Oh, the photos! I love them!

  21. vernita8 says:

    Oh, I agree with everything you said, there are so many things that go on in families, that nobody knows. Everyone is affected by these things whether they know it or not.

  22. Love the photos and the story. It is really amazing how petty differences separate people forever. I’m glad you got to find out about Florence eventually, though. I know that for me personally, I try very hard to save face when it comes to family. It might take some teeth grinding to get through and not throw back a sarcastic response, but I don’t want to ever be the branch that breaks off the family tree forever!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you for reading my post and your comment. I have read your blog many times and I am sure that you are some of the glue that holds your branch firmly to the tree.

  23. Susan says:

    You need a “Like button, or is its absence your crafty way of persuading readers to leave comments?! 😀 (And look, it worked! 😉 )

    Your title yanked me right in — Ah yes, family feuds. o.O Legend-making, they is. 😀

    I’m so glad you landed the wonderful photos & letters find you speak of — TRULY, priceless. I’ve been similarly blessed a couple of times, although not to the whopping degree you were. Let me second your, “….the importance of looking everywhere for family clues. Then we must follow up on what we find. We all hold information that can be so helpful to someone else doing research on the family. It is not our information to own but is to be shared so we all can learn.”

    Amen! 😉

  24. Melanie says:

    Oh I wish I could find someone who had family pictures!

    • chmjr2 says:

      It is always a great find when we can get pictures like that. I am still looking for some of my father. The earliest picture I have of him is when he was in his early to mid 30s.

  25. Grandpa Zeke says:

    Very happy to find your blog. I also have had some success reaching out to others on ancestry and elsewhere and have shared photos, but also find that some researchers are jealous of their work and will not share, or say they are willing but don’t follow through. Come to think of it, that is perhaps a sad variation of the senseless family feud, not being willing to share research with extended family. Oh well, glad to have found your blog and as Pierre said above, I think we think alike!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you so much for reading my post and your comments. I feel that my work on my family history is to be shared. I want the story to get out and told. I hope it helps others to fill in the blank spots in their family branches. We all share the same trunk and roots.

  26. Pictures of the girls in their dresses is priceless. I often wonder what would my relatives think of having their life history on a blog for anyone to read? Do I tell a sentimentalized, nostalgic view of family life, preserving their dignity while somewhat whitewashing the unpleasantness? Can I write about shortcomings when I have just a small piece of their history? I struggle with these questions.

  27. chmjr2 says:

    So many good questions. I try to see myself as a family historian who’s job it is to find and report the facts. How much to tell and when do the facts become my opinion is at times a hard line to see. While I do not give all the story in my blog it can be found in the family history book I am working on. In my post https://mooregenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/a-day-in-the-life-of/ I talk a little about this. Thanks for reading my blog and your comments. I enjoy your blog very much.

  28. angelabee says:

    The discovery of a family feud when I was 7 years old ignited my passion for genealogy and history in general. I am now a historic house museum manager in my hometown. With a death in the family, I realized the deceased I thought was my Great Grandma was actually the second wife, but also the first cousin of my original Great Grandma (scandal and a too quick second marriage for some people’s liking). This was the first funeral I attended and I couldn’t figure out why my Grandma and her sisters weren’t attending, but her brother was. This began my questions and you know how persistent a 7 year old can be when they sense a “mystery”. Years later I got to read my Great Grandpa’s will and it referred to the feud where he left two of his 4 daughters $10 each and the majority to my Grandma, another sister, and the adopted brother!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you for reading my blog and your great comments. Your job as a historic house manager sounds very interesting. To be able to work in a the study of history must give you much to think about and learn.

  29. Cori Zuppo says:

    Reblogged this on Meechan Family Genealogy and commented:
    An outstanding post that I have been thinking on for several days now…it’s inevitable that we’ll come across conflict (and other things) in genealogical research. Such are the reasons that objectivity ensures good research and helps us process the big picture of our families in the process.

  30. I too have found old branches of the family tree that were severed due to previous generational feuds. Some of my best family stories come from the sawed off branches.

  31. bayonnejoe says:

    Dramas in our family genealogies is what adds zest to the dry bones of a family history! Who needs to watch made up soap operas on TV? The REAL stories on shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots”, are much more interesting to me. Many of us have these great stories of family secrets and feuds and the stories of unexpected finds are also entertaining reading and a great source of satisfaction when we are the ones making the discoveries.
    I enjoyed reading your story.

  32. Boy! Does this hit a nerve. Both hubby’s family and mine have missing or misleading information. My mother and grandmother were both of the “If you don’t know why I’m angry, I’m not going to tell you” school of thought, and hubby’s step-mother pretended that nobody in the family ever, ever got sick. He struggled for years with medical problems which could have been easily handled if he had know his father and grandfather both had the same condition.

  33. amoralegria says:

    So sad!! Once everyone has gone to their grave, there’s no going back to make amends, and so many people end their lives with remorse or resentment. I don’t know of any family feuds in my family. We were fortunate to never fight about money, probably because we were never seriously in want of money. But I know from experience that my family members come to each others’ aid when someone is in trouble financially. I got lucky!!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks so much for reading my post and your comments. I am happy that you have such a close family. That is something to treasure. However I will still maintain my view that every family has had a feud at one time and most likely many times. Many are not known to the next generation. The one I write about in this post I never knew about. I just happen to make the discovery. Each generation of a family has secrets that die with its passing.

  34. thejduk says:

    Your first paragraph resonates with me. Why do people sometimes hide genealogical data? Are they concerned about privacy or are they hiding a family secret? Both concerns are silly, off course.

    At first, I thought my family might be an exception to the ‘every family has a feud’ rule. My siblings (there are 12 of us) really don’t fight and we really do get together several times every year. And likewise good relationships with cousins. Then I remembered that there was a fair amount of tension between my father and his older brother. I don’t know the cause, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t money. It’s unfortunate, both have passed on and never got to share the old days as I do with my siblings.

  35. chmjr2 says:

    It is too bad about your father and uncle. However it seems that your family has not fallen into that trap. Many feuds are not about money just other silly things when looked back on years later. Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to comment.

  36. Shamwest says:

    So true. It’s actually a kind of snobbery and very frustrating to deal with. I have the attitude that I am going to find out anyway!

    • chmjr2 says:

      That is my attitude also. I must admit that when I do get the information that was withheld, I do get a feeling of “take that”. Not very adult but I can’t help myself.

  37. Emily López says:

    What an incredible connection you made and new treasures for your collection!

  38. Pingback: Sharing Saturday: How family feuds impact genealogy searches | Beyond The Ghosts...

  39. Wow! You have tied into the hearts and souls of so many of us Charles! You have said what i also think, the family information is for shharig! I was a family therapist, fixing other family’s feuds when I couldn’t fix my own. These pictures are priceless, what a woderful gift! Love this post! Thank you!

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thanks Helen for the reblog this. I hope your readers like it. I hope things are all well with you and your enjoying the summer.

      • this has turned into one of my busiest summers in a long while. I am loving visiing with a lot of family as they stream through the area. I jusst wish I were a bit healthier so I could run with them! LOL Its all good though!

  40. Judy Curbow says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t understand people that hoard their information. I decided some time ago that I was going to share – and I was going to document – and I was going to put out correct information – no matter how uncomfortable. Great story…..really enjoyed it.

  41. judyg1953 says:

    I love your post, it really does ring true. Sharing on Ancestry has been a wonderful experience for me – why people keep everything secret blows me away. I am so willing to share all I know and don’t understand people who aren’t. You keep digging, I also keep digging and we find out the most incredible information! Good work!

  42. Jo Henn says:

    What a terrific find, and I completely agree with you about sharing our family history. Thank you for sharing this. I wanted to let you know that I’ve included your post in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/08/noteworthy-reads-21.html.

  43. Thanks for visiting my blog today. I don’t think we’ve had any family feuds, however some members of our family seem to have dropped out of sight. I have about 2,000 people in my tree at present, counting both mom and dad’s sides. Put my husband’s side aside for the moment because its overwhelming.

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