Archive for February, 2019

Most families have legends or stories that have been handed down. The question is are they true? How can you find out? These stories generally begin with a grain of truth and like all stories that are spread about begin to become more interesting as they are passed along. They are often about the origins of your family, how they came to this country, or why you can’t find your ancestors through normal research.

Your goal is to track down the story and prove or disprove it. One possibility to consider is that the story got shifted from one line of the family to another? A story that really belongs on your father’s line may have moved to your mother’s line through the years. Ask yourself lots of questions. If you run into “brick walls” in your research consider that the story may have shifted sides.

Think through the story to see if it really makes sense. Consider the probable fact that your family was normal, and did things like most others of their day did. If you can’t find them then, branch out into the less normal. Some of the common legends are:

  • LEGEND 1. My ancestor was a stowaway, so there are no records of him coming into the county. A typical ocean voyage was a long enough period of time. It was unlikely that a stowaway could have stayed hidden for the entire length of the voyage. If discovered, he would have been added to the passenger list. There were many ports your family could have come through, so check them all out.
  • LEGEND 2. Our family name was changed at Ellis Island. Passenger lists were made at the port of departure where a name was given and recorded. At Ellis Island – or other ports of immigration- the lists were checked off. Immigrants themselves changed their names after they settled in America to avoid prejudice and to blend more easily into American society. Check the area they left from or the area they first settled in for clues as to what the original name may have been.
  • LEGEND 3.My ancestor came over with two brothers, who then went different directions. Go back to what most people did. It is far more likely that one brother came to America and then wrote back to encourage other members of his family to come. When they did arrive, they more than likely settled near each other.  Your research can tell you if it was three brothers, two brothers and an uncle, or three men with similar names.
  • LEGEND 4. My ancestors was famous. Your Stewart from the House of Stewart may have been attached to the Royal family through his occupation as a servant. Not all Bradford’s came through Mayflower Pilgrim William Bradford, and not all French were Huguenots.  Your ancestor who “rode with the Wild Bunch” may have lived in the areas near where the Wild Bunch was, and a story grew around that. Your job is to prove what the real story is. These family attachments to famous families are often easy to prove or disprove as famous people are often very well documented.  We all want a famous person to hang (not literally) on our family tree, but we may not find that person.


Legends may also arise out a family concern to deliberately hide the truth. A father who deserts his family may become a causality of the Civil War. A woman who was deserted may be listed early as a widow. A mother who had to be institutionalized may have become the victim of a tragic accident.  A young person who married someone who was undesirable to their parents or who either had or fathered, a child out of wedlock may have a  story created around them. In your search to uncover the truth, you may find conflicting information. When you come across data that you can’t justify with what you know, don’t toss it out – save it – it may prove useful later.   Enjoy the Journey.

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