Family Stories; Trust But Evaluate and Verify!

Family stories passed down through generations can give an individual the opportunity to feel a connection to a family. Maybe the family was well known or connected to a geographic area, industry or famous historical event such as the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620. This notoriety or event in history can be both good and bad. Before believing a family story, it’s important to do two things.

First, evaluate how these stories were told or passed down in the family. Ask yourself; is the person or family member who told you the story a reliable source? Did they have firsthand knowledge or did they witness the events of the story? Sometimes the same story told by different family members have different pieces of information or omissions of information.

Different pieces of information may be accurate, but they could also be embellishments. The omissions might be on purpose to avoid the subject or protect individuals from embarrassment. They could also just be unknown or forgotten information. Don’t forget that stories told generation after generation can evolve or change as it’s passed down. This is similar to the game of telephone.

Second, if possible verify the story through historical and genealogical records. Finding these records can offer support or legitimize the story. They can also separate facts from fiction or even disprove stories that have been told so many times that families believe they are the unwritten truth.

GenealogyChris says that a genealogist may not be able to assess the validity of the story based on who is telling it, but they can help offer valuable historical and social context through a search of genealogy-related records.