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  1. #1
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    Default Family stories: fact or fiction?

    Some family stories seem to be pure wishful thinking: examples might include being related to rich or famous people with the same surname, having Huguenot ancestors (and/or ones who came with the Conqueror), having lost a fortune in Chancery, etc. etc.

    But there are other stories which may contain a grain of truth . . . some may have started out as factual but by Chinese whispers have over the years got garbled. Others may have been stories right from the start, invented to cover up skeletons in the cupboard.

    Here's one from my family. My grandmother could tell me nothing of her great-grandfather, surnamed Carter, except that she thought he was called William and that he had "left his wife, who was very beautiful, and kept having affairs. He became a sheep farmer in Australia."

    With hindsight I know this story belongs in the Fiction category, but I took it at face value when I first heard it. It was only later that I began to wonder if William's journey to Australia had been voluntary. Eventually I discovered that he had been transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1838 for stealing a parcel of bank-notes. His wife (who was left behind in Sunderland) managed to go on having children without him.

    What I'd love to know, but probably never will, is when the cover story was invented. His son, from whom I am descended, was only 2 years old when his father was transported, and (as far as I know) never saw his father again. His mother may never have told her children what really happened to their father. Or perhaps it was a later member of the family who decided to lock this skeleton away in the cupboard.

    What family stories were you told, and were they true?

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    My Grandmother told us my Uncle Frank was shot at Arnhem when being parachuted in as part of Operation Market Garden. According to her he was wounded along with others and put into a shed to shelter from the Germans. Then, allegedly a German soldier threw a hand grenade into the shed and killed them all. I always wondered how she knew that if they were all killed. However, years later we took my parents to Arnhem to the war graves and whilst we were there visited the museum housed in what was a hotel occupied by the british during the battle. On going down into the basement, we saw a photograph of plane wreckage and two or three wooden crosses in the ground with british helmets on them. Underneath was an inscription with my Uncle's name on it. Very very spooky that with all of the exhibits there we should find that one without even looking. It transpired that he was a dispatcher whose plane was shot down. He was never parachuted in nor was he ever in a shed wounded as the story went. Thank goodness for that.
    Sue

    Wilfully squandering my children's inheritance

  3. #3
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    My father grew up hearing the story of how an ancestor - he didn't know which one - killed himself by throwing himself off a railway bridge. As far as Dad knew, it was "someone on his mother's side" who lived in St Albans and it was the Sandridge Road railway bridge. I had heard this tale as a child and always wondered every time that I walked over the bridge, looking down and wondering which line it was on. (I had a very macabre mind, for one so young.)

    Many years later, whilst undertaking research, I found that the chap in question was one of my father's paternal great grandfathers and he had walked out in front of a train.... at the Lewd Lane railway bridge in Smarden, Kent. This happened in 1922, 5 years before my father was born, and was still being talked of when he was a child.

    So, an element of truth, even if the facts were muddled somewhat.

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    Mine was that my maternal side originated from Norfolk.

    Well, I traced the line back to Nuneaton.

    Reasons for the tale - the main one I believe was that he had 11 children by his 'wife' who he married after 30+ years of living together, stating on the marriage certificate that he was a widower. Unable to trace his parents or his first wife, was he in fact still married whilst living with his 'wife'?
    Will we ever know?

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    My mother always maintained there was a Spanish connection in the family, and my grandmother used to sing me a song that she said was Spanish, and that her mother taught her. For years I looked for the connection, with no result, until I found my gt gt grandfather in the 1851 census, born in "Madrid, Spain". This was strange as everything else pointed towards his being born in Suffolk.

    I finally did find my gt gt grandfather's baptism record, and he indeed was born in Suffolk, and his family had lived there for generations. So why did that one census list him as being born in Spain? I would think nothing of it if not for the family legend of a Spanish ancestor.

    On footnote: not long ago I was contacted by a distant relative of that branch of the family - who told me about an ancestor (probably my gt gt grandfather's niece) who had dark hair and a swarthy complexion - they called her the Spanish Lady. It made the back of my neck tingle!

    I may never know the truth.

    Pam

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    Default Captain Morgan and Florence Nightengale

    They are both folks on my husband's paternal grandmother's side...or so the stories go... All I know so far is grandmother's mother was a Morgan and a generation of two further back someone may have been a Nightengale.
    The reason so many woman in the family became nurses was because they were related to Florence!
    The family( Late 1800's- early 1900's) DID NOT talk about the Captain Morgan side as he was a rogue...so the stories go.. I have read that he didn't have children, but he did have siblings so until I can verify where grandmother's mother's family really was from and who they were we shall keep them in the fiction with a shread of truth bucket!
    I wonder if we will ever prove or dis-prove any of this?
    Some of the stories on my late MIL's side have proven to be partially true... Wrong name of a ship, but right time period, yes some were rich, just NOT as rich as the stories go, etc.
    They do give you a starting place for searching, don't they?

    My own family is BORING compared to these ones!

    Sue
    YOU MAY CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS, BUT YOU CAN'T CHOOSE YOUR RELATIVES

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    Family 'stories' are charming, in that they are what the members of a specifix branch choose to belive. Even when there is documentary evedence seperating fact from fiction, often the fiction is so embedded in their minds that whatever ones presents - it is wrong. Their story is what they want to believe.

    As a result, I ask the family concerned if they have proof of what they have - if they don't I offer a teeny bit to disprove the story. Most don't come forward to elicit further details and I never hear from them again. Others do and they appreciate the corrections to the myths and we become much closer.

    I'll not tell of my own experiences except to say that all the branches within my tree had at least one person whose life was not as it was purported to be.

    Colin

  8. #8
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    My dad told me his grandfather was an old rogue and following a fight in a pub he was murdered!!!

    I found out, much later after dad had died, that the old rogue (and he certainly was that) did have a pub fight,
    after which, while in hospital, he committed suicide by cutting his throat.

    Hospitals were not monitored way back then, like they are now, so...
    did he do the deed?
    or did someone sneak in and do it for him?

    True or false, fact or fiction? I wish I knew one way or the other.

  9. #9
    Seriously addicted to family history research. spison's Avatar
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    Most (but not all) of my family's stories concern my g-g-grandfather, Thomas McCALL. He married Jane HORTON in 1873 in Armidale, NSW, and had been born in Ireland. As his children were born he grew younger on their birth registrations. Family stories recalled by them were that he had fought in both the Crimean and the Maori Wars. There was also a rumour from his oldest son that he had been "lagged" (ie. transported). Another rumour was that Jane had eventually left him even though she was blind and had taken her youngest children with her. One branch of the family was adamant that this event never happened. What a mess!

    Years of searching eventually found Thomas arriving in VDL aboard the London (2) in 1851 as Bernard McCALL. He was freed in 1854. The Crimean War was probably a lie but did he go to New Zealand? We don't know. He can't be confirmed in any record in New Zealand or Australia under either name until 1873.

    Jane McCALL did leave him. She probably wasn't blind at that point as she managed to take a horse and ride with her younger children to Bathurst, NSW, a distance of over 600 km. Her three adult sons gave her money to get away. She assumed another name but Thomas/Bernard found her and took her to court for theft! [Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal 25 Oct 1897]

    We suspect that he was a bigamist but these searches are proving to be inconclusive as he lied so often. He wasn't a nice man.
    Jane

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by spison View Post
    Most (but not all) of my family's stories concern my g-g-grandfather, Thomas McCALL.

    Jane McCALL did leave him. She probably wasn't blind at that point as she managed to take a horse and ride with her younger children to Bathurst, NSW, a distance of over 600 km. Her three adult sons gave her money to get away.

    We suspect that he was a bigamist but these searches are proving to be inconclusive as he lied so often. He wasn't a nice man.
    Jane
    He sounds like a right charmer Jane! Certainly keeping you on your toes!
    Sue

    Wilfully squandering my children's inheritance

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