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A Horse Thief in Your Family Tree

Patricia Sullivan

People who browse obituaries are often into genealogy, too. It's interesting, but sometimes off-point, to say so-and-so was the great-great-great-granddaughter of the cobbler to John Hancock. My grandfather, who jokingly claimed to be part American Indian because of his skill as a fisherman, warned us not to look too far back into the past or we'd find a horse thief.

In that spirit, I loved hearing about one of Ancestry.com's new online collections -- Australian convict records. Their records detail the 165,000 convicts transported to Australia from 1788 to 1868 from the British isles. And apparently it's the Americans' fault .. The genealogists at Ancestry.com say that England shipped some 50,000 convicts to America to work as indentured servants, typically on tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland. Tired of England deporting its unwanted ne'er-do-wells to America, Benjamin Franklin suggested sending rattlesnakes to England in return. The newly independent colonies banned immigration of convicts, so the Brits set sail for the other "new" continent of Australia.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  October 10, 2007; 2:56 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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