Genealogy Information

Family Legends and Stories Debunked!

Everyone has them. Family legends in genealogy abound and often become more embellished with each generation. Many times, after diligent research you may find the family story is false. Here are some common family stories that are usually false.genealogy humor

  1. My gr-gr-grandmother was burned at the stake as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Witches were never burned at the stake in North America. All the witches were hanged except for Giles Cory who was pressed to death.
  2. A town in England. Europe, o Germany is named for our family. The truth is that towns were generally started before people had surnames so it is probably the other way around. Your family adopted the name of the town. But this still gives you a good clue as to the home of your ancestral family.
  3. Our family descends from a Cherokee princess. Royalty titles were not used in North American Indians. This rumor started when Pocahontas arrived in England. The newspapers claimed she was a princess to create publicity.
  4. We descend from Robert E. Lee. Actually, there were thousands of Lee’s in the mid-1800’s and most were not related to each other. Lee was a very common name and this makes it difficult to research but this legend is more than likely a result of wishful thinking by those who lived in the South.
  5. My ancestor arrived on the Mayflower. This one is also usually a result of wishful thinking. Luckily William Bradford recorded all 102 passengers on the Mayflower in 1650 and about half died the first year. To prove this claim, you must be able to document descent from one of the surviving passengers listed here.
  6. Our family descends from Royalty. Believe it or not, this may have a ring of truth. If you go back thousands of years in your ancestry, you will have billions of ancestors and the odds are that a few of these billions of ancestors were members of royal families or had money. But you must document your descent from one of them. That is the fun part of genealogy!

If you do discover a story is false, don’t throw it out completely. There’s still a possibility of a nugget of truth in the story and it was simply enriched with each telling as it was handed down in the genealogy

Let the chips fall where they may

It is never easy to debunk a family story and if you are the person who discovers the truth, beware….there may be some resentment from family members.

Long held family stories are hard to “let go of” but in the interest of accuracy, we must do as one AP member emailed when she encountered resentment, “Just do your research and let the chips fall where they may.” Future generations will be thankful for your effort.

Save time and avoid pitfalls in your research.WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources is filled with simple, no-nonsense instructions to set you on the path of your families’ ancestry with the following information:

      • WHERE TO FIND – on-line resources, experienced genealogists will not be aware of many of these.
      • COURT RESEARCH – how to do courthouse research, where to find birth, death, social security records free on-line.
      • EIGHTY – ONE QUESTIONS – you should ask your elderly loved ones before it’s too late.
      • TIPS ON BREAKING DOWN THE WALL – Everyone faces some difficulties in research, often called a ‘brick wall’ but WHERE DO I START? provides suggestions for overcoming them.

Download WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources to your Kindle in less than 30 seconds or to your PC, iPAD, iPhone, MAC or Android device with FREE Apps from Kindle.


WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources (Kindle Edition)

By (author):  Donna R Causey

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. In Colonial Virginia, accused witches were tied up and thrown into a body of water. If she sank, she was not a witch! A difficult trial to win! The most famous ‘witch’ was Grace Sherwood. She did not sink, was declared a witch, but went on to live many more years. The road that went to her dunking spot was called ‘Witchduck’, and the name still exists in Virginia Beach, VA, as both a road and a neighborhood.
    Pat Spriggs

  2. On the other hand, don’t assume there is not at least some grain of truth to family stories that everybody in the family (some that may not have ever met each other) swears up and down to as the truth. If your family (Black or White) has been in this country since the 1600’s, (especially the South) you certainly may have a Native American ancestor. It may be so far back it does not show up in your DNA anymore, but, it may be true. Also, if Grandma swore up and down that you were NOT related to THOSE Johnsons, Jeffersons, Joneses, etc. in the next county, do not be shocked to find a DNA or Family Tree match. There might have been a falling out over the Rev War, War Between the States, inheritance or whatever before Grandma’s time that she may not know about.
    1) Not all witches were in Salem. We all may have an old Granny Mountain Witch/Midwife/Conjure Woman back there somewhere. I am still waiting on my letter from Hogwarts. 2) My married last name comes from a tiny village on the English/Welsh border where they came from. No, they didn’t have a castle. It’s kind of like Evan from Jasper became Evan Jasper. 3) There was no Princess. Maybe Nanyi, daughter of Cunning Bear married Ian McPrince, the Scotsman that ran the trading post and became Nancy McPrince. 4) Check your family tree on that one. There are several Lee families. You might or might not be distantly related. 5) There are loads of folks descended from Mayflower passengers. Most don’t even know it. Don’t assume that if your early ancestors came into Virginia or the Carolinas that you are not. There were some of those folks that came south early on (obviously the smart ones). 6) Yes, I descend from Welsh, English and French royalty. The Cavalier Myth from Virginia is not a myth. Like Mayflower Descendants, there are loads of folks that are descended from royalty or noble blood waaaay back. It is through daughters and younger sons. Read how many of our Founding Fathers and Presidents are descended from royalty. So, yes, you may be. But, I don’t recommend showing up at Buckingham Palace (or wherever) just to chat up your royal cousins. And, 7) Don’t assume all your Alabama ancestors were fighting for the Confederacy. There were some that fought for the Federals and some who tried their best to not get involved. This was especially true in NW Alabama. Also, don’t assume your ancestors were all fighting with the Patriots in the Rev War. Some folks in the South were loyal to the British, some tried to stay neutral and some fought for the Patriots. The Rev War went on a long time and some people switched sides. The British brought the war south because they felt there was more support here. Both sides at the Battle of King’s Mountain were Americans. The British commander was British, but his men were Virginians, Georgians and Carolinians.

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