Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Myths, Rumors and Lies

You would think that genealogy would be about the least controversial topic in the universe. But, as usual, where there are people with opinions, there is controversy. In my advanced age, I get the opportunity to review comments from my blog readers that show that myths, rumors and lies as the basis for controversy are alive and well. I am afraid that I cannot publish some of the comments because they contain unacceptable language and, as a side note, I usually find the worst examples also lack any spelling or grammar abilities. The subject that seems to get most, off-the-wall, comments is that of who owns the genealogy companies. There seems to be a strong sub-group of genealogists who are convinced that even genealogy is subject to conspiracy and oppression of people's rights.

I hesitate to repeat any of the assertions made by these commentators, lest they see the words in print and view my repeating their remarks as an affirmation of validity. Oh, by the way, most of this type of comment are, of course, anonymous. I would simply shrug off most of these people were it not for the fact that I have to deal with some of them in person. Yesterday, for example, I spent over an hour on the phone trying to help someone with a problem that arose when someone else was told that "FamilySearch Family Tree was not supposed to be used right now and that everyone should be using" There is a constant undertone of people who tell me that they were told that Family Tree is still not ready to use and so they are not moving over from yet.

This is one of the milder myths that are floating around. The main one, I hear constantly, is that some entity, usually either the LDS Church or, own all the genealogy in the world and are thereby profiting from their monopoly and keeping various researchers from finding their family lines. A variation on this idea is that the LDS Church owns and thereby is controlling all the genealogy in the world. Oh, you hadn't heard that? Well, one reason I have been writing my series of "Who Owns the Genealogy Companies" over the years is because of people with this idea. So there is no misunderstanding; the LDS Church does not own and never has.

The most current rumor/lie that I got yesterday, involved an assertion that owned the Social Security Death Index and was manipulating the data for its own purposes, mostly to make money from people using the SSDI. This would be funny, if the people weren't serious.

In past years, I have spent considerable effort trying to convince friends and relatives that their cherished ideas were nothing more than myths and rumors. For example, at one point in response to a plea from a relative about religious broadcasting being banned, I went to the Federal Communications Bureau directly to obtain information about Madeline Murray O'Hair. There is a whole Wikipedia article on this subject. I talked to a very nice person at the FCC who informed me that they had a whole department dedicated to trying to stop that and other rumors.

What is interesting to me is that these types of stories circulate in families and get preserved in surname books as the gospel truth. One of the most common genealogy myths involves the "Three Brothers" story. You might be interested to know that this story is so old, it was collected by Jacob and Willhelm Grimm and included in their collection of folklore. I have a surname book, from the Morgan side of my family, that specifically repeats this myth as fact. In that story and its variations, there are three brothers that come to America, one goes south, one stays in New England and one goes west. Now, it is entirely possible that this is true, but the story itself is so engrained in myth that in my case, it is most certainly false.

Many of the repeated and hallowed stories of our ancestors, passed down through the generations, may prove to have some basis in fact, but in some cases they are absolute fables. I have mentioned before that one of my Great-grandfathers was said to have been "adopted." Because of a lack of data, we will probably never unravel this myth. It is more likely that he was the son of one of the daughters out-of-wedlock and "adopted" by her parents.

Sometimes we would prefer the myth to the reality. There are several extensive stories passed down in my family and I have purposefully refused to investigate the facts, because as has been said to me, I didn't want to go there.

But, you say, what if the story is true? Well, that gives us all something to do in our spare time. We can hunt down the details of family stories. Sometimes the truth is more impressive than the myth but sometimes the myth takes over despite the truth.


  1. You forgot the part about the one who goes west never being heard from again...

  2. I suppose the next thing you'll try to tell me is that my great-great-grandmother was NOT an Indian princess!! :-)

    1. What do you know about Indian princesses? How many have you met personally? :-)

  3. I think the three brothers fable persists because in western civilization, our favorite epic number is three. Personally, I've nicknamed this "The Three Stooges" fable. Afterall, in almost every variation, one gets lost, makes a wrong turn, or drowns at sea. If I were a more irreverent person, then I would call it "The Holy Trinity" fable. Okay, maybe sometimes I do. These genealogy conspiracy theories are new to me. Maybe this is also just another manifestation of western thought: everything is a conspiracy.