Vanderpool Gormley, CG
Extracted from a 1996 issue of Missing Links
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG
If you are going to be successful in finding your ancestors, you better look at
those treasured family legends with the cold eye of an investigative reporter. Legends can
lead you astray, and yet, we family historians cling to them, like favorite toys.
Four common legends that have been handed down in many
American families include:
spelling of your surname;
A town in
England, Norway, Germany, etc. is named for your family;
relationship to someone rich or famous, or to nobility or royalty;
goes back to three brothers who came to America.
minute you insist your surname was ever or always spelled a particular way you label
yourself a neophyte researcher. Spelling, as applied to surnames, in America was never
rigid until the late 19th century. Most of the records in which you will find your
ancestors were recorded by someone else -- a court clerk, enumerator, minister or rabbi,
and your own ancestor may spell his name three different ways in his holographic will, and
sign it with a fourth version. If you can't get over the surname spelling hump and look
for all possible variants of your names, you will not be successful finding your
Towns named for
your ancestors? It is much more likely that your ancestors took the name of a
locality than vice versa. And, your ancestor who first passed along your surname as a
hereditary one may have lived in the 13th or 14th century, and you will be lucky to ever
identify him. Use surnames as a clue to, not proof of, origins.
Rich & Famous?
Royal and Noble lines? You may be related to someone rich and/or famous
(even<gasp> infamous] of the same surname, but don't bet the farm on it. And, don't
be deceived by commercial offerings of "family crests" or books about
"your surname." They are not real genealogies. Genealogies must show
relationship between people (regardless of their names). Not everyone of the same name is
related, plus remember most of us descend from ordinary people.
Now and then you will find a famous or infamous
character hanging on your family tree. They are nice decorations and add color to your
pedigree, but the real challenge is to trace those undistinguished folks who left few
records and moved frequently. Be wary of accepting any noble or royal lineage without
scholarly verification. Many of these lines are false and some have been cleverly
Three Brothers. The three brothers myth
probably arose from earlier researchers who were unable to find links between men of the
same surname in different localities and just assumed they must be related -- somehow. No
doubt there are instances of where three (or several) brothers immigrated to America, but
don't make such assumptions based simply on surname.
Accept no family legends on face value and do not allow
them to blind you to possibilities that contradict the family tales. Actually, the real
stories are much better than these tired old legends.