Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Getting The Story Straight

Today's newsletter from Family Tree, written by Diane Haddad in the Genealogy Insider, had a wonderful article titled, "The Importance of Enunciation in Genealogy".

[You can read the article in its entirety at: http://www.familytreemagazine.com/insider/The+Importance+Of+Enunciation+In+Genealogy.aspx ]

Diane tells of a family whose daughter couldn't wait to go to a certain part of the country on her next vacation because it was where her Dad had always told her he was from. The truth was far from the idyllic setting he had told her!

This reminds us that not all family myths, or family legends, are ground in truth. I can't begin to tell you how many times someone will tell me that their family was from one area of the country or region, or of some nationality, just to find out through research that it wasn't so.

Case in example: my grandpa had always told me he was named after his own grandpa, Henry. In fact, he even had old Henry's name written down in his family Bible as his grandpa. However, imagine my surprise when I found his death certificate, and that of three of his children listing their father not as Henry, but as Gottlieb! We knew he had come from Germany, and had even thought perhaps we would find his real name to be Heinz or Henri. But Gottlieb? No one was prepared for that!

I guess the point I am trying to get across is that it won't always be the case that family legend or myth can be proven true, and as researchers, we must be prepared to find that it isn't so.

I have had so many "cousins" tell me that this or that in my research has been faulty because their "daddy" or their "grandpa" or "aunt" or "uncle", etc., have told them something different. Therefore, my research has to be faulty.

The truth is folks, our families sometimes tell little embellishments to make our history sound better. Before you know it, those embellishments become "fact".

I recently did the research for a family who had been unable to trace their heritage past 1870, when one of the ancestor's suddenly appeared on a Census record in Illinois. Why? Well, their family myth had been that they had just arrived to the New World, but from where they did not know.

When we got into the research we found that the ancestral parents were actually two inmates in an insane assyllum. Evidently they got together and bore a child. The child was sent in 1868 to live with his grandparents, whose ancestors had been in this country since around 1700.

Be prepared for a bit of scandal!

Scandal occurred in the past much more often than you would think! I recently researched a family whose ancestor was linked as an associate of John Wilkes Boothe in the Lincoln assassination; you never know what will turn up!

The most common scandal of all? Oh, those precious little bundles of joy arriving not nine months to a year after the marriage occurred, but a mere three to four months after the marriage! [A HUGE no-no before the 20th century!] And it happened in all types of families. From the very rich to the very poor. From the educated to the uneducated.

Some of our clients are shocked to see on the Census records where their grandparents, and perhaps 3 or 4 generations back, were totally unable to read or write. Their signature a simple "X" on a document. [Oh, some people are highly offended when they see this on their ancestry!]

Then there are those whose family legend links them to someone of fame, or who claim a certain ethnic or national ancestry. I have been asked on several occasions not to tell anyone else of my research results when they find out that what they thought to be truth ends up not being so!

Regardless of our ancestor's past, we need to embrace it. If we find that our great-grandfather was a rake and a scoundrel, well, we need not believe our nature is the same as his. We hold our own destiny in our hands.

Be prepared to document the truth as evidenced by proof. Oh, to be sure, we should record the family legends. But be prepared to locate the truth of them. Wonderful for the researcher who is able to prove the legendary ancestry! But equally wonderful to locate the truth when the "legend" becomes a common man or woman.

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