52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – Black Sheep

Cultures embrace naming traditions for family members.  In the U.S. colonies the oldest son would inherit the family estate. To make the connection easier, those first sons were named after their fathers.  Second sons were named after their father’s brothers — most likely the father’s oldest brother.  Middle names were either the mother’s maiden name or the grandmother’s maiden name.

In Scotland, the oldest son would be named for the father’s father; second son for mother’s father.  First daughters were often named after their mother’s mother; second daughters named after their father’s mother.  This pattern led to many repeated names.

In my France family, name repitition is very prevalent.  There is Michael France, Michael France Jr, Thomas Henry France, Thomas Henry H. France, Thomas H. A. France, John H. France and John Lee France.  The branches of this tree cross back and forth leaving angry brambles for any genealogist to untangle.  Such was the task I conquered with the help of my paternal grandmother.  Pruning away at the branches led to the discovery of one of our family’s black sheep.  I’m not naive enough to think he was the only, but discovering the black sheep is not easy with generations of people who lived by the adage “Thou shall not speak ill of the dead.”  Frankly, finding some of these individuals would make my stories more interesting!

John France was the son of Michael France (1776-1867) and Rebecca Henry.  I’ve written about Michael previously as he was a War of 1812 veteran.  This particular John France was my 3rd great grand uncle. A rather grand title for the black sheep of the family.  He was a brother to my 3rd great grandfather (Thomas Henry A. France) and I suspect my 2nd great grandfather’s namesake (John Lee France 1835-1917).  I warned you this wouldn’t be easy to explain.

Third great grand uncle John France married Malinda Craigo in 1827 in Clermont County, OH.  She DIVORCED him on March 25, 1857 in Fulton County, Illinois thirty years after having moved their family west.  Records show she had started the divorce proceedings in October of 1856 and had seven witnesses including two brothers-in-law (Samuel Farr & Hosea Parvin) and one nephew (Hosea France) who testified on her behalf.  Witnesses backed up her story that John had cut her with a hatchet!  He was sentenced to four years in prison, but was pardoned for some unrecorded reason. Ten years later John  married Thomas Brown’s widow, Lucy Beckelhymer Brown.

Some family stories state John was a Black Hawk War veteran having served under Capt. John Sain.  To this point I have not found official records indicating so. Only an application for a pension remains.

As for John’s attack of Malinda, maybe he suffered what we now call PTSD.  Perhaps the strain of war caused him to snap and attack his wife. The only published family story I find of him has the usual embellishments….”He was a farmer who came to the county with no means but acquired competence..”  Obviously it didn’t mention Malinda and the hatchet!

For every black sheep in the family, there is another member who upheld the family honor and actually, John and Malinda’s sons did redeem the family.  Wesley L. France honorably served as a private in Co. A of the 28th Illinois Regiment in the US Civil War and was killed at Natchez, MS in 1864.  Their son Michael died in 1864 while serving in the Civil War.

In regard to being the black sheep of the family, well, even the wool of a black sheep is needed to weave a colorful tapestry of family history. I say embrace them and be glad we have their colorful stories to tell.  The documents they left behind do help us trace the family a little easier.

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