Fact or Fiction? Only Research Will Tell!

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.  ~ John F. Kennedy

In the current issue (December 2008) of Discovering Family History magazine, I have an article entitled “Fact or Fiction?  Top Genealogical Myths.”  I define a “genealogical myth” as a dramatic family history story that is often untrue, and if we fall into the trap of believing in it, it may bring our research to a halt. I’m not going to reprint the article here as I’m sure my editors would like you all to purchase a copy of the magazine while it’s on the newstands, but I would like to briefly list the myths included.

  • The “Name was Changed at Ellis Island” Myth – in which the immigrant’s “ethnic name is changed upon arrival in America!
  • The “Our Family Hid from the Census” Myth – which is why they’re nowhere to be found in the records!
  • The “Stowaway” Myth – in which the brave immigrant traveled to America “illegally” and unnoticed by authorities!
  • The “Name’s Not Spelled That Way” Myth – in which the family surname absolutely, positively was never spelled any other way!
  • The “If They’re Not in the SSDI, They Don’t Have a Social Security Number” Myth  – in which we take the various SSDI online databases as gospel!
  • The “Famous Ancestor” Myth – in which you are descended from royalty, outlaws, or some other famous figure because Grandpa said so!
  • The “There Were No Records Back Then” Myth – in which you have no hope of finding any ancestors because either all the records were destroyed or they just didn’t keep any!

That’s a sneak peak, but there are several other good genealogical myths like the story of the three brothers that came to America and settled in different areas, or the story about the family inheritance that’s waiting to be found.  In my own personal genealogical quest I had to deal with three of the myths listed above.  The stories were persistent, but, to quote JFK, unrealistic.  A good, determined  researcher will find the truth.  And trust me, there really were some stowaways!  But not all of us are lucky enough to have one in our family tree.  If you do have one, good research will help you prove it!