With all the new technology people are taking DNA tests to find out about their genetic make up. As a person who has worked on my family history since the miniseries “Roots” I would say DNA is a third line of family research tied a little into both genealogy and family history.
Thousands of people are suddenly interested in where they came from. They want to know more about their family. I am all for it. I believe it is important that we preserve our family stories. They are being lost as generations ahead of us pass on. As the keeper of the story in my family I find that there are members from the next generation starting to asking me questions about who we were and what we did in history. I think that important when sometimes what I am repeating is nothing more than family legend.
Family legends are one of my favorite things because it is an oral history. It is what our family tells about themselves to the next generation. Sometimes, but seldom is it wholly based on the truth. Details have been left out because they are forgotten or someone sanitized our story. Embellishments have been added because someone wishes the tale was a little more like the story they tell. In spite of the fact that I have found oral history to be only somewhat factual, I always record them as they are told and reference them as a family legend. I think that name bestows on them the honor they deserve. Recording it as it is told will also provide clues to actually trace the story. Almost every family legend is based on some fact. That brings me to family history.
Family history is the story the facts tell about our family. Everything recorded as family history has something to prove that what we said is based on fact. Not all facts are equal. Firsthand facts are from the folks who participated in the event or had direct knowledge. Second or third hand facts are from others who probably know, but were not there at the time of the fact. A birth certificate is usually a firsthand fact of a birth date because the doctor was there. I have often found that the birth date on a death certificate is wrong. That is because it is from a child who assumes they know Dad’s birthday, but he lied when he joined the army in WW2 and he has stuck with the story since then . My favorite family history is when you find some one in your family changed their occupation or moved, because census records have shed an unknown fact. It is when I discover this, that I start looking for more information. I am looking for what made them move, why did the take up a new occupation in a era when people did not change jobs as often as we do today. Family history is more than just birth, marriage and death dates if you let it be so.
Genealogy is about tracing your linage. It is about “who am I related to?” My family legend said we were direct descendants of the Morris men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I spent time tracing the Morris men to see if we had a connection. It was completely false. I kept the legend but added a foot note at the end letting folks know it was no more than wishful thinking. No one talked about anyone in my family having served in the Revolutionary War, and yet that was a connection I made accidently after many years of research. It was fun to order up my ancestor’s military pension records and learn much more about his family and service. Some people just want to trace births, marriages and deaths. They want to make those linage lines and connections. It is another different way to study your family. Genealogy can also be used to help support and document your family history.
The latest family research type is DNA. DNA is interesting because we all imagine we are something…Irish…German…Native American. Yet for the most part it is mostly legend. DNA allows us to see if there was ever that Irish ancestor in our family. DNA allowed me to unexpectedly prove that the family legend was not true and what my facts told me was the truth as correct. The legend told me that my Grandad from Oklahoma was significantly Native American. His looks and facial features supported that. There was a family legend that a Great Uncle caught his mother with a man other than his father at a young age. There were no facts to support this nasty tale. So DNA provided me with the opportunity to look at this in a differently light. The DNA results showed neither my brother nor I had any Native American genetic markers. So it is another family legend disproved and the DNA results boosted my factual research.
Winter coming on strong and fast. I can’t imagine that my cautionary behavior is going to change any time soon. So like previous winters I plan on spending time dusting off my shelf of family history and revisit my brick walls, holes in my history, and documenting where I came from. I am also hoping that I can connect to others who may be keeper of a story I have yet to hear.