Hi! I'm Kelly.

As a writer, I've always been interested in family stories. When I heard of a Satanic cult in my family tree, I thought I'd found the story of a lifetime. Read more.

When Investigative Reporting Meets Genealogy

When Investigative Reporting Meets Genealogy

I interviewed author Karen Branan for an Ancestry.com blog post last month.

Branan’s book, The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets and My Search for the Truth, documents her investigation into dark family secrets.

I asked Branan when she first became interested in family history.

“When I was very young,” she replied, “I asked my mother where we came from. She said, ‘England, I guess.’ Then, ‘Don’t ask so many questions.’ I think my curiosity began then.”

In the book, Branan describes the early stories that sparked her investigation: her grandmother’s memories of a lynching, her father’s alcoholism, rumors of a murder.

“I wasn’t interested in genealogy per se so much as solving mysteries,” Branan explained. “I’m an investigative reporter by trade. The only family genealogist I ever knew, Aunt Welda, seemed more interest in making a false case for a presumed aristocracy than getting at the truth.”

Branan’s mother initially discredited her grandmother’s memories:

“You can’t believe some things she says,” she warned me as I left. “She embroiders, you know.” I could not know then that eleven years later, I’d embark on a full-scale excavation of this family history, and my mother, who learned early to revere her sheriff patriarchs, would continue the embroidery of memory.

I asked Branan how her relatives reacted to the stories she uncovered.

“Most of my family has been very supportive and appreciative of the work I did,” she said, “though troubled and shocked, of course, by what they have learned. A few of the older ones felt I “denigrated” the ancestors and “stirred up race trouble” with the book, but far fewer than I’d imagined. Some of those I felt would be most upset because they shared names with ‘bad guys’ in the book were most laudatory.”

Check out Branan's book, The Family Tree or read the blog post and Karen's tips for researching family secrets on Ancestry.com

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