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December 06, 2018

Family Stories: Fact or Fiction

Family Stories: Fact or Fiction

By: Nancy Massey

I had an uncle who was not only the unofficial family historian but who told the best family stories. Each time he told a story about a family ancestor, he embellished it from the last time he told it. When I started researching my family history, Uncle Art was the one I called first. Fortunately for me, he was one of the last family members alive to tell the stories. When he recently passed, I realized I didn’t hear all his stories. What a loss for me and my grandchildren!

Part of Uncle Art’s story about my 2G Aunt Ida

Part of Uncle Art’s story about my 2G Aunt Ida.

However, Uncle Art told me several family stories that I could research. (Yes, you need to research the family stories to uncover the grain of truth that started them.) Use the clues in the stories and track them through the resources of genealogy databases. Sometimes the stories are more fiction than fact.

HEPL has subscriptions to Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3 Library Edition, American Ancestors, Heritage Quest Online, and most recently Newspapers.com.  All are great databases in which to begin the fun of verifying family stories. If you are unfamiliar with these databases, consider taking a class on using them. You may register for the classes on the program calendar.

You need to decipher the facts from the fiction.  If you don’t verify the facts, you could spend hours and hours researching a family member only to discover you have an “oops!”  However, the fiction does tend to capture your attention and interest. Especially, when it is about the wagon train pulling into a circle to ward off an Indian attack.  Can you just visualize that story?!

Part of Uncle Art’s family story about my great-grandmother’s second husband.

(Through research, I discovered most of the story to be fiction!)

Alas, when the last surviving family storyteller passes, so do the stories unless you write them down or retell the stories to the next generation.  Not sure about how to tell those stories? Well, try attending the As I Recall Storytelling Guild on the second Thursday afternoon of each month from 2-4pm.  You can practice telling your family stories and get some feedback to improve the telling.  Then you can share those family stories at family reunions. You don’t need to register for this activity.

Once you have a better flow for the family story, write it down!  Preserve the family story for generations to come by including it in the family history book you are compiling. Leave the story for your grandchildren and great grandchildren.  They will thank you for doing that when they are old enough to appreciate the paper trail you left for them.

I am lucky to have had Uncle Art tell me those family stories over and over.  I am even more fortunate in that he actually took the time to write some of them down! I don’t have them all but I do have stories to pass down to my grandchildren. What family stories do you have to pass down to your grandchildren?