The Truth or a Really Good Story?
Who hasn’t heard a great family story and hoped that it was true? Fun anecdotes shared at family gatherings are common and as we grow older we can recite the stories as well as our parents and grandparents. However, a good genealogist has to analyze the story and decide either to let it remain as an unconfirmed family tale or get to the root of the story. If you’re lucky there will be an underlying grain of truth.
A case in point in my own family had to do with a meeting with the Marquis de Lafayette. The French General who had fought with Americans during the Civil War, returned to the U.S. for a grand tour in the 1820s. In the spring of 1825, his trip brought him to southern Ohio.
According to the family history, Lafayette was to meet with my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Morrow who at the time was Governor of Ohio. Gov. Morrow’s home was in Loveland, Ohio, north of Cincinnati. When the French General arrived at the Morrow home he saw a man on his knees working in the garden.
Lafayette looked down at the man and commanded, “You! Go tell your master that I have arrived!”
The man slowly stood up as straight and tall as he could and replied, “Sir, I have no master but God.”
Now that’s a great story and parts of it are true. According to my research, Lafayette did come to Ohio but he only came on shore at Cincinnati briefly. He never traveled to Loveland. While in Cincinnati, the Governor met him and joined his traveling party aboard his boat that took everyone up the Ohio River to Wheeling. The Governor then traveled with the entourage to Pittsburgh. Thus, the meeting happened but the great story about a humble gardener did not.
Stories like this one have been passed down through the generations and are part of your history. As I see it, you don’t have to discard it. Instead, create an area that introduces it to the reader but also includes a disclaimer letting people know that part or all of the story is from family folklore and be sure to give them the truth.
In some cases, you will meet with disagreement and perhaps disappointment but for the integrity of your work, it is important to give all the facts. In my case, the relatives were not shocked to find out that the story was false. It’s still told at gatherings much as ghost stories, fables, and fish stories also make a comeback. It’s just that now we also know what really happened.
Thanks for dropping by to read!
Cheers! ~~ Jenn