Saturday, June 26, 2010

Family Folklore or Truth? Keep an Open Mind

How many times do people have self-imposed road blocks in their genealogy simply because they refuse to question whether a family story is fiction or truth?

I was reading the latest newsletter from about "Don't assume," and felt I should add my "hear hear!"  It had this wonderful quote by Stephen Rigden (one of's experts):

"It is quite common to hear family legends and lore which have been passed down through the generations like heirlooms.  However, the difference between a normal heirloom, such as a valued piece of jewelry or furniture, and a family legend, is that the latter tends to be changed over time:  to become more colorful, more elusive, less plausible.  In many family legends, if not most, there will be a kernel of truth, and it is the job of the family historian to work through the accumulated layers of elaboration and embroidery to uncover that truth."

This happened to me in my line, but I happened upon a goldmine when I wasn't even searching for it.  Instead, the goldmine I found dispelled the family folklore and forever shocked our family about the truth of one ancestor.  (See these two articles on my other blog, Jirene's Genealogy Treasures:  "Samuel Gordge:  Drowning Myth or Death by Shark?," and "Merab Hancock Gordge Petitions the Governor of Australia for Assistance following her Husband Samuel Gordge's "Drowning.")  Maybe you too have a sorrowful story about an ancestor "drowning," when indeed he died by shark bite after pillaging goods from his ship and leaving others stranded.  To this date, some cousins refuse to accept the truth even when faced with actual historic documents disproving the myth.

So, thank you for the reminder to always keep an open mind when researching your relatives.  This same philosophy also applies when researching first source records.  Women lie on census records about their age; family member's status on census are wrongly reported to hide an indescretion; and obituaries are written in the most favorable light but may not always be completely true

Always keep an open mind!


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