Untangling Family Stories

Remember playing telephone as a kid?  Perhaps you did it with cans strung together or perhaps you whispered a message to a person near you who repeated that message to someone else and so on – by the time the message got to the end of the line, it didn’t resemble the original one at all.

Unlike those old games, it is not always possible to go back to the source to find out what the person with whom the story originated really said.  The best we can do is to attempt to find documentary proof to corroborate an old family story.

Where can you find this proof?  Sometimes the information is in family Bibles or Prayer Books, sometimes in a letter or on the back of a photo, sometimes there may be a contemporaneous newspaper article that mentions the event.  In other words, that corroboration can be almost anywhere.

Many people in the family could have different versions of the same story.  Writing each of the stories down, comparing the versions can often reveal the kernel around which the story developed.  If you go this route, make sure you cite who told you each version and which branch of the family it came from – such information may come in handy later on.

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