Sponsored By GenealogyBank

17 May 2014

Grandma Said So....

When Grandma (or Grandpa) talks about events that happened  before their birth, it is possible they are wrong. Not because they are lying out of malice, but simply because someone didn't give them the correct information, they have confused two stories, or they are simply mixed up.

What starts to crack some genealogy brick walls is when we realize they are built on a foundation centering on a story that was not quite true.


  1. My mother used to talk of the people who were in her home community. I grew up thinking that she actually knew these neighbors. Wrong! After studying census and deed records of the area, I realized that she was relating information that had heard from her parents. When I created a time line for the people and events, she could not have personally known them. There are so many questions that I would love to ask her now about the community, but alas, she passed some years ago.

  2. What gets to be interesting is that information which turns out to be true. I had an immigrant ancestor and his wife who came to America and finding him was a nightmare - because he changed his name and lied about his country of origin (France, instead of Belgium). Luckily, his wife's family emigrated to Wisconsin near Green Bay and although we were in southern Indiana the two families found each other (supposedly thanks to the Peshtigo Fire). So I was able to find her Belgian home. But he remained elusive. Then in searching on what some of us thought might be the surname (the last of four given names) I found a Google Book entry in a book of Belgian cases in which a person of our ancestors possible name had caused a notorial record to be created which dispersed an inheritance from his mother two his two sisters (who happened to have names which were the same as our ancestors daughters in Indiana) commensurate with the death of his father. That act concerning the inheritance exactly matched a story handed down to me from my mother and supposedly from her grandmother, our immigrant ancestor's first living child. The Belgian court case was a claim of fraud in executing the notorial record; and that probably matches well the idea that our ancestor left in some sort of shame - and quite likely why he changed his name.

    Further research found a ship's list naming this person with a woman of the name of our immigrant ancestor's wife on arrival in Harwich, England. Then after buying land in July, 1855, in Indiana; having a still-born child in November, 1855; and lending the Bishop of Vincennes over $3000 on 28 Jan 1856, I found a marriage record from the Cathedral of St Louis in St Louis, Missouri, on 30 Jan 1856, under his true Belgian name and naming what we came to know as his parents. Additionally, his wife named her parents which had been independantly discovered thus proving his birth. I even researched the building of the railroad to make sure they could get to St Louis in a day. I'm assuming that there may have been another civil marriage somewhere in Belgium or even England as the ship's list recorded her maiden name.

    But it was those certain aspects of the 'family myth' which helped to find our ancestor. That and a diary of a 1910 European trip by his daughter and son-in-law, in which his son-in-law listed what they thought to be his full name. All four given names - the last of which was his true surname - and that infamous last name which was associated with a noble family and which the family still uses as it was the only one they knew for over 150 years. Yes, even after our ancestors death in 1873, his wife did not tell her children the truth during her final 30 years.

  3. I started a huge firestorm in my husband's family when they asjed me to look into some family stories. They turned out to be just that, stories. But my husband's family had thought they were the truth. I was called every name in the book , including liar, and it's caused a terrible rift in the family. They had heard the stories for so long and believed them to be true for so long, they couldn't accept the real truth.

    1. Oh my gracious, you poor thing! Many hugs to you! I had the same problem with my ex's family, kind of. They were all told that his grandfather's parents immigrated from Germany. What they all failed to accept was that Germany's borders changed often, or what feels like every day in my opinion. I discovered that they were actually from a town in present day Bosnia. I don't know what's wrong with that, but they called me a liar, said that their father/grandfather/great grandfather (and whatever else he was to each) would never lie. I tried explaining that he wasn't lying, that he was saying what was Germany at the time when they immigrated, not where it was currently. That never sank in. They were ugly about it and my ex still refuses to believe me. Whatever. I gave up. In truth, I don't care anymore anyway. lol!