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01 May 2012

It's What My Aunt Said--So It's True

A seminar attendee came up to me after a session several months ago and asked about her problem ancestor. When I asked where she got her details, she said that most of the "story" came from her aunt who did some genealogy research several years ago. While possibly true, the story the aunt told her seemed slightly far-fetched. I asked the attendee what documents she had on the problem ancestor--very few. In trying to prove the "story" the attendee had overlooked some other scenarios that fit the records she did have. Of course, these stories were less dramatic.

I gave her a couple of suggestions that fit what she had already obtained. I also suggested, that for the time being, she put the aunt's story aside and focus on what information was stated in the records. Sometimes stories are true. Sometimes they are just stories. The truth often lies somewhere in between. But it's best to  focus on what the records actually say instead of trying to make them say something else.


  1. It is very tempting to believe those family stories but they are not always based on facts. If I pass those on to others I always say they are undocumented stories, not facts.

  2. Yep, we need to look at those stories skeptically, she said, just before the research proved that everything her elderly cousin said was right on the money. 8-]

  3. Oh, this is so true about one of my great-great-grandfathers. I honestly think he just told his kids a bunch of stories about his origins. The records do not support any of the several dramatic stories about his childhood. So far as I can document, he was raised by an older, childless aunt and uncle when he lost both parents He was not a stowaway on a ship, not the bastard child of a rich man, and not the unwanted child of a rich man's daughter who embarrassed the family by getting pregnant. The one constant in these stories is the surname he was supposedly born with, but so far, I have found no connection at all to any people of that name...

  4. Mary Anne Price, Tallahassee, FLMay 21, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    As a Registrar for DAR, I have had to explain this a lot to applicants whose papers I work on. They have trouble understanding why we have to have documentation to prove dates, places, and names (although some of your other tips help explain variation in names on various documents and gravestones).