Researching Family Legends
Family legends are fun to share, especially with other family members when gathered together for an occasion. When stories are shared between the generations, sometimes the details are lost. Even with further questioning. Details can be scarce if the legend is only an oral history rather than one with documents, or at least chronicled by someone close to the event. I wish my ancestors all kept diaries, too bad they did not have a blog for posting their stories! I enjoy researching family legends and finding records to validate the legends.
Sometimes Legends are True
A family legend that impressed me when I was a child was about my great uncles, Lou and Roll Osborne. The story went the boys were placed in an orphanage when their mother died in 1883, and their father soon married one of the teachers at the orphanage. The fact the orphanage teacher was my great grandmother made this story both romantic and shocking. I researched this family legend several years ago and found it to be true. Some of the details turned out to be more shocking and more romantic than the story shared at family gatherings. I posted about this legend, and some of the surprises uncovered previously. [1, 2]
Sometimes Legends are False
I read a family legend about one of my 3rd great grandfather’s being witness to the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in 1814. I researched this legend and discovered it was probably false. My 3rd great grandfather’s service during the War of 1812 placed him nowhere near Baltimore in 1814. I wrote in more detail about this legend and my research last year for the prompt “Fire”. 
Do Your Research
Family legends can be fun to share and I also think they are fun to research. Whether a family legend turns out to be true or false, the records and details discovered can be even more interesting. Census and vital records are obvious places to look for corroborating evidence. But I have found some of the less obvious sources to be useful.
- Seek out other family members to find out what they know about the family legend. A cousin you do not converse with often may have a completely different account of the story.
- Consider mapping your ancestors’ life to discover if they were in proximity to the events in question.
- Depending on the legend, DNA may be helpful to determine the validity of a family story. I used DNA to corroborate a family legend about the paternal parentage of a 2nd great grandfather. I wrote about that research last year for the prompt “Disaster”. 
- Old newspapers may hold some answers if your family legend is at all newsworthy. Remember, a hundred years ago who you ate Sunday dinner with was often considered newsworthy.
- City directories can be useful, particularly years between the census. Depending on when the directory was published, you may be able to discover neighbors, occupation, employer address, local businesses, city officials, clubs and fraternal orders, street name changes, maps, and phone numbers.
The next time you hear or share a family legend, consider what records are needed to document the validity of the story and make a plan to do the research. By the way, it could be a great way to get your family interested in genealogy.
Born Takeo Furukawa on 15 March 1883 in Tottori-Ken, Tokyo, Japan, little is documented of his early childhood. Family oral history stories say that the young Takeo experienced hunger, poverty and the loss of his family. Additionally, the stories tell of friendship, spiritual learning and scholarship.
My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne, lived at over 20 addresses around Indianapolis between 1876 and 1942. I thought it would be interesting to see all the old buildings and homes where he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis.
My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne (1848-1942), was a widower with two young sons in 1886 when he married Jennie Warbington (1857-1918) in Minneapolis on the 27th of May. I decided it was time to put sources to the story.
While working on a family photo project I decided it would be fun to compare side-by-side my father and his parents, at similar ages, to try and discover a family resemblance.
Jesse King was born in Ohio (probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe) in 1805, he was a son of Philip King and Mary Leah Wright, both of Pennsylvania. Philip King was a farmer, he married Leah Wright in 1801 in Somerset, PA, they had six children, of whom Jesse was the third.
A handwritten letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary to the then president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. It was her last appeal for a War of 1812 pension, sadly the pension was denied. The letter gives a glimpse of a woman who had no formal education, a poor farmers wife, then widow, mother of nine, she probably just wanted some independence through an income of her own.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Challenge
So much about genealogy research is a challenge, perhaps the most common challenge is the ‘brick wall,’ meet Sarah Smith. 18?? – 1846
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 3: Unusual Name
The surnames in my tree are typical of common western European names. However, the name that is unusual among these names is MY surname: LaFara.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 6: Surprise!
Just when you think you know everything about an ancestor, surprise! I thought I knew most everything about my paternal great grandfather David L. Osborne, 1848-1942.
For all of us who are procrastinating about labeling photos I have one thing to say, “Be considerate of the genealogist of the future!” My maternal grandmother was very good about labeling old family photos, and there is one, in particular, I found very informative.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 10: Bachelor Uncle
My uncles are the marrying kind, sometimes more than once!
I had to go back four generations for a bachelor uncle, my great-great-great uncle Conrad Rumple, 1833-1911.
Conrad was an older brother to my great-great grandfather on my matrilineal line, William Rumple, 1839-1912.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 11: Large Family
My great-great grandparents, George Lafary and Catherine Landon, had a relatively small family, three of their six children survived to adulthood. However, they both came from large families of nine siblings and nearly all survived to marry and have children.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 13: In The Paper
It’s fun to find articles in the paper mentioning one of my relatives. Mostly they are birth, marriage, divorce and death events. But, it’s the oddball articles in the papers I like the most.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 14: Brick Wall
We all have a brick wall, that one ancestor who defies all research. I decided I would work at my brick walls by generation, I broke through the last of my 3rd great grandparent brick walls, now I am working on 4th great grandparents.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 16: Out of Place
I realized I did not have a date of death for my great, great grandmother, Catherine Landon Lafary. A fresh search uncovered the date and much more. Out of place, but once discovered, everything fell into place.
I have many favorite photos among my collection of family artifacts. Currently, my favorite photo is of two little children from 1916 who were a complete mystery to me until last spring.