In the 1950s Leon Nutes was at his mother-in-law’s New York City apartment when a stranger came knocking. Nutes recalled that the man’s handshake was a firm as steel. “Who is he?” he asked. In a hushed tone, his mother-in-law explained, “He’s a cousin of mine and he just got out of jail.”
Nutes told of this encounter years later in a phone call to Carl R. Migden, a distant cousin who was researching the family tree. Bronx-born Migden learned that the “jail” was the infamous maximum-security prison Sing Sing. And the cousin released from there was Jacob “Kuppy” Migden, a member of the criminal organization known as Crime, Inc.
Kuppy’s criminal activities—an embarrassment to the family—were a long-held family secret. “It was the most fascinating genealogical research I ever undertook,” says Carl R. Migden, who wrote of the quest to uncover his criminal kinsman’s hidden story for a book entitled A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Black Sheep in Your Family.
In the 165-page paperback, published in 2016, author Migden gives advice about the sources available for research while detailing his own success with the clues and leads from newspapers, hospitals, cemeteries, courthouses, state archives, the Social Security Administration, municipal archives, census, prisons, U.S. Treasury Department, and the FBI.
In newspapers, for instance, the author found more than 20 articles about Kuppy Migden’s involvement in a first-degree murder case in 1939. An order to assassinate a would-be court witness from testifying in a racketeering case led to mistaken identity and the shooting death of the wrong man. Kuppy unsuccessfully attempted to thwart arrest by having his face surgically altered. When he was apprehended, federal agents found Kuppy had planned to conceal his identity with a falsified birth certificate and other documents.
“I discovered the very interesting and rich details that criminal records can reveal… It put faces and images onto the pages of genealogical notes: precise dates, times, locations, buildings, allegations, and more,” says Kuppy’s cousin-turned-sleuth, Carl R. Migden.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Black Sheep in Your Family may be ordered online for $15.95 plus shipping from eBay: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Black-sheep-in-your-family/322271906831