Family Folklore & Flawed Facts

We all have stories, beliefs and possibly legends that have been told over the years and passed down from generation to generation. They can shape our identity and influence how we see the world. It may take a bit of courage to question the truth of those stories or we may actually discover the facts by chance or during research.

I grew up “Irish”. I remember hearing stories of being Irish for as long as I can remember from my mother and grandmother as an absolute fact without any reason to question (especially since my grandmother’s maiden name was Kelly). As I started researching the family history, I expected to find that my grandparents or great-grandparent were “off-the-boat” and I was shocked the further back I got as I learned the immigration distance from our home town was the only as far as the next county or the adjacent state. Eventually I found that my Irish immigrant ancestors came over closer to the famine years then the recent past as I expected. It still “does my heart good”, as we used to say, that the strength and pride of my Irish roots continued on long after their ships arrived here in American.

The next surprise was in the 1900 census that recorded my great-great-grandparents as German (not once was that ever mentioned growing up). This was a bit of a jolt to my identity but I eventually embraced it with a very unsuccessful attempt at Sauerbraten. (I will add that, because of my Irish determination, I kept making it until it came out right!)

1900 Federal Census

Research twenty years ago did not include the internet or sites like There was a tremendous amount of traveling to archives, requesting death records from local vital records offices or writing letters to historical societies and libraries with fingers crossed and a long and painful wait for a reply. When I finally got my great-grandfather’s death certificate it showed his parents were from upstate NY and NOT Germany. Additionally, this is the same great-grandfather who told the midwife he was from Nova Scotia when she was filling out his children’s birth record. Yet another twist.

Most likely we will not find out the reasons for flawed information. Perhaps it was a simple mistake, another clue to follow in the family history or maybe intended to evade the fact.

So, confirm the folklore and the facts and be sure to enjoy the twists and turns along the wild ride of discovery your history.


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