11:11 PM

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton,
you may as well make it dance.”
 -George Bernard Shaw

So, what do you do when you find a giant, 165 year old skeleton in the closet? You get all the women in the family together to ruminate the discovery. Our first annual Smith|Goulé family history girls-night-out happened on the eve of Halloween. It was an eventful evening for our family. The first of its kind and a tradition we hope will continue for years to come. 

A few weeks before we all gathered in a large hotel room in Park City, one of my aunts made an unexpected discovery. She had been perusing old English newspapers online through the FindMyPast website. After typing in the name of Louis Henry Goulé and to her surprise many articles popped up in the result field giving accounts of the same 1845 event: Murder at Durham

There were numerous accounts of the murder and it was the topic of much discussion in the town of Durham at the time. Louis Henry was well-known as the Superintendent of the Police. He shot his wife, Emma in the arm after a fit of jealousy. On the night of June 10, 1845, Louis Henry accused her of spending too much time with another man. Emma adamantly denied his accusations in the presence of other family members before she was shot. She died 6 days later from lockjaw caused by the gunshot wound. Louis Henry was found guilty of manslaughter on grounds of insanity and sentenced to three years prison time. He was acquitted of more severe charges which would have surely resulted in a hanging sentence and ultimately the end of that branch of my family tree.

This 3rd great-grandfather of mine left prison a changed man. He moved back to Ombersley where he originated and where his extended family still resided. He attended school to become a veterinarian and then married my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Ann Knott. Together they had three children (he had no children with his first wife) and lived a seemingly quiet life after that.

My great-grandfather, Harry Thornley never spoke about this story or his grandfather to anyone in the family. We don't even know if he knew about it himself. It truly was a skeleton buried deep within our family closet until this month and 165 years later.

During our girls weekend we discussed all of this and then the victim, Emma Gyles. She had married one of our ancestors and her life had been cut short at just 31 years of age because of her husband's impulsive choice to be violent. We pulled out our laptops and spent time researching her family members. We read about her feisty attitude described in the testimonies of others and celebrated her assertiveness. We tried to pay homage to her by talking about what her life might have been like at that time. We all mourned her passing while trying to imagine how difficult it was for her family to overcome this loss in their lives.

Until this point, I had felt comfortable only sharing stories of my ancestors which included those in my direct line that had been victims and survivors of circumstance and abuse. I had never discovered a perpetrator directly in my ancestral line. I realized that I really only wanted to write stories about the heroes and heroines in my family; a woman that gave birth in a covered wagon with the threat of an Indian attack outside; brave young men escaping the French revolution in the dead of night; young girls helping their families settle the West and build up towns; brave men rescuing pioneers from certain death during a winter snowstorm. 

This realization helped me understand that I also need to embrace all the tragedies that make up my family history. By doing so, I am acknowledging the pain and shame that comes to families who may have a member among them who chooses to cause violence, or impulsively makes poor choices negatively impacting the lives of others around them. 

All of the sudden I felt so much compassion for families who suffer this type of adversity. I also realized how important it is to avoid any type of concluding judgements when discussing families or parents of perpetrators. Through the countless hours of time that I have spent researching my own family, I have also concluded that if any one of us is to dig long enough we will surely find deeply, embedded skeletons within each of our family closets. It is also important to remember that making poor choices is not in our DNA. Being a perpetrator of violence is not in a person's genetic make-up. It is a choice! Louis Henry Goulé made a very poor choice and it resulted in the death of his first wife. His actions should not cause me to feel shame, but should help me to feel greater empathy towards others. 

Family History Girl's Night - After an afternoon at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and a yummy dinner at Sugar House BBQ, we headed to a large family suite in a Park City Hotel.

We stayed up chatting and researching until 2 AM. We are so sleepy and tired in this picture!

Slumber Party!

Aunt Linda is up way past her bedtime! 

The next morning and more exciting discoveries are made after just 5 hours of sleep! We had a hard time
stopping and saying our good-byes!

Beautiful mother and daughter look a likes, deep in thought and discussion!

Hey, Smith|Goulé women mark your calendars! Next year's Family History Girl's Weekend is already scheduled for November 11 & 12!  

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  1. Another great story, Wendy.......I love your Blog! And you too!

  2. That's such a crazy story and such a fun idea to do that with your daughters and aunts. I love how you said that making poor choices are not in our DNA.

  3. What a fun night! And what a story! It's a tribute to him that he was able to move on and make a better life for himself after prison.