The Genealogist’s Halloween

“When a dog howls, death is near!” The wolf howling on the full moon at night. Vector illustration

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” by A. Conan Doyle comes to mind at this time when scary stories rule the Halloween scene. Having been to the moors of Dartmoor, I can understand why there are legends of evil which emanate from the area. Dartmoor, by-the-way, is in England.

My husband, daughter, and I drove to Dartmoor for the express purpose of seeing the Dartmoor ponies. We felt compelled to indulge our daughter’s passion for horses while on vacation. We arrived quite late…it’s easy to get lost with all those roundabouts! As we drove down a narrow road, there were all kinds of animals laying about in the road to keep warm on the asphalt. Winding around sheep, waiting for cows to move, and even seeing one of the Dartmoor ponies was more fun than inconvenience.  fog descending over road on The Moors

There was a bit of fog over the moors which lent an eerie feel to the whole scene. We didn’t hear any dogs howl, but it would have been fitting if had happened.


One of the legends of the moors is, however, about the supernatural roaming of a demon black dog. Evidently a local squire named Richard Cabell was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil before he died in 1677. When Cabell died, a pack of black hunting dogs breathing fire raced across Dartmoor to take the soul of Cabell to the devil.
Are there legends in your family? I remember reading a letter from 1904 in which an aunt had written about her niece. Evidently the niece had fits of rage and most of the niece’s extended family felt she was just spoiled because of poor upbringing. Later, I find her in a mental institution where she eventually died around the age of 40 years old. I have a feeling that friends and neighbors created rumors and gossip about the unruly girl. If Sir Conan Doyle had been around, a story of legendary proportions would have been written.

How about a book written by my cousin, Marcelle Harwell, “Places Where Spirits Dwell.”  It is a book about family experiences, which in times past would have been whispered about instead of put into written word. I think several of our mutual family members have experienced some supernatural happenings, leading me to think these things can run in families.

male and female at wine barMy own mother had a premonition about my dad the night before he died in a boating accident. She said she was sitting next to him, but he looked as though he was across the room. She reached out to him just to make sure that he was, indeed, sitting next to her. Mom also felt “someone” hug her at the moment of death, as she stood in the doorway of the bedroom where her mother died.


When my daughter was about 3, a friend of mine, who could not drive, wanted to attend a funeral. I offered to drive, but I did not plan to be at the gravesite. I walked around the cemetery grounds while I was waiting for the funeral to end. As I walked around, I found the cemetery Mausoleum and walked inside. I was reading the name plates on the vaults while holding my daughter, when my daughter asked a peculiar question. “Why are there ghosts in here?” O.K., now that’s just plain weird. The subject of ghosts had not come up at anytime at home that I remember. “I don’t know…let’s go outside!” is how I responded.


Yes, strange experiences, eerie places, and weird happenings are enough to make people superstitious. Scary stories abound from the past such as the Legend of Sleepy Hallow, Sleepy Hollow being a real place north of New York City. How about the poem about Lizzy Borden.

Female profile with an axe isolated


“Lizzie Borden had an axe
She gave her mother 40 whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father 41″

Makes some people want to run right out and spend the night at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast and Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts, “Where everyone is treated like family.” And don’t forget the Lizzie Borden bobble head.

Let’s face it, people like to be scared, which is why people like telling tales about crazy family members, staying in tents telling ghost stories, or watching scary movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” If you saw “Psycho” as a teenager, you wouldn’t take a shower for months…some probably only take baths to this day. If you were younger than 13, you weren’t even allowed to see “Psycho.”

Front Page Scary

Why is any of this apropos to what genealogists do? Well, it makes for good reading and easier searches. When I say easier searches, I mean that if there have been tragedies such as murders or unusual deaths, then it is probably front page news. Front page news is on the whole, much easier to find than any other news. So don’t hesitate to write about your families’ oddities, scariness, or front page news items. Down the road when
you are gone, the people who are the scariest and craziest are probably going to be the ones everyone will want to read about in your genealogy writings. Who knows, as you search for your family history, you may find you are related to the Squire Cabell.

occhi del gatto nel buio, sfondo per Halloween

Do you own a black dog?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. TommyBoy

    What a fitting blog for this particular season of Hlloween!!! This would be a very appropriate time for me to find my personal “skeletons in the closet” !

  2. Marcelle Harwell

    Thanks Cuz, for the mention of me and my book . Some members of our family do seem to have what I call an Open Spirit. A blessing or a curse? I guess it depends on how one uses it.

  3. Gary Monti

    Very entertaining! I like how your writing flows!

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