The Origins of Family Lore and Legends: The Sensational, the Romantic, and the Spooky

I would like to challenge you to go the oldest person in your family.  Ask them about your ancestors and the past history of your family.  I bet they come up with these crazy stories and tell you about all your notable ancestors.  Unfortunately, some of these stories are not always true.  This interchange is how family lore spreads and continues to change from generation to generation. 

“Lots of times people accept the family rumors they hear as part of their family history.  But once they begin researching these rumors for themselves, they discover these ‘legends’ aren’t true at all.” Nancy Welton Dallas Morning News Sunday, April 22, 1984.

Now my family has some pretty interesting lore floating around.  When I began working for the genealogy library in 2010, many random family members and distant cousins could not wait to tell them to me!  Throuhgout the years, I have tried to verify some to no avail.  The only thing I know is that some of the people mentioned actually existed.  Don’t worry, I will share them today!  There are also some things you can do to help verify your own family lore and legends. 

Family Legends and Lore
My beautiful many Great-Grandmother Louisa Fountain Groue

Well you know my great-grandma was….

My favorite family legend is that of a great-grandfather and his mysterious death.  He is the patriarch of the Husley (aka Hosli) family from Switzerland.  Frederick ‘Fritz’ Hosli was an immigrant that came into New York only to be directly drafted into the Union Army.  He moved South for the land-claims owned to him as a veteran.  He married a local girl, and started a family.

 In October of 1882, he was set to speak in favor of an accused horse thief.  As family legend would have it, he was found dead mysteriously the next day at the age of 38.  My great-grandmother mentions poisoned coffee in her rendition.  Unfortunately, the coast paper did not begin until 1888 and there are no existing court records that have survived all the hurricanes to my knowledge. 

Here is the interesting thing.  This story was told to me and a week later re-told to me again from a distant cousin I met randomly.  Is it true?  Maybe, but it is doubtful that it will ever be verified.

Family Legends and Lore
My Great Great Great Aunts. Twin sisters of my great grandfather Dewey Lawrence

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

The story of a great grandmother on another side of my family is perfect for Halloween when everyone is thinking of the spooky.  This was told to me by a distant cousin who has done extensive genealogy research tracing the family all the way back to France.  However, this story is from her childhood memory.  As recounted, she remembers my great-grandmother Aurelia reading tarot cards until her brother threw them into a fire.  He claimed she was a “sorceress.” 

Also, like everyone else in the south I have the famous “Indian Princess” legend floating around.  There is some version of this in every family.  When in actuality, it was a ploy by many people to scam the United States Government in order to receive Native American benefits in the 1900s.  For reference, you must prove without a double to have at least one grandparent of full Native American heritage in order to claim benefits. 

Family Legends and Lore
My Great Grandfather standing a beach road. I imagine this is what all small beach roads used to look like.

How about your family lore?

Most family lore and legends stem from some little seed of truth.  Whether it is an odd fact, interesting person, or a brief childhood memory.  These things can morph and change as they are retold verbally.  (Think of the Greek legends and how outlandish they became!)  Eudora Welty mentioned that southerners are born storytellers.  Nothing can get a southerner as excited as talking about their family while telling a great story.

If you want to verify any of your family legends you should begin with solid records.  The old standbys like census records, newspaper searches, and even the family Bible.  I also suggest checking on some dead ends you may encounter from time to time.  For example, ten years ago, I did not have easy access to microfilm records that have been digitized by the Library of Congress.  If all else fails, there is always a DNA test!

Sometimes it is worth just embracing the stories.  Record the oldest members of your family telling them and share them at gatherings!

Final Thoughts.

The final story I will leave you with is about my ship captain great grandfather.  I was told he had a ship sunk by Union soldiers during the Civil War.  However, by using Genealogy Bank, I discovered he had a ship blow after the Civil War.  He lost some crew members, and the rest washed up a good ways from Biloxi.  The article spoke of a good Samaritan giving the remaining soggy crew train fair to return home.  It was interesting to hear how a legend came from an actual true event. 

Remember fact can be stranger than fiction!

Family Legends and Lore
Pin Me!

What are your favorite family lore and legends retold to you? 

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Would I do it again? A look at my Ancestry DNA Test One Year Later

When my parents asked me if I wanted to try to complete my DNA analysis last year I was excited! I had been doing personal genealogy research and been relying on family word of mouth for years.  I scoured misspelled names on census records and squinted at 1800s script hand writing to exactly pinpoint all the countries of origin from my family.  It is a time consuming process.  So with my career change in 2017, finding past the immigrants was just going to have to wait.

Then, all the guess work was made easy with the revolution of the Ancestry and 23andMe DNA services.  After spitting in a tube, creating an online account, and mailing a pre-labeled package a concise family history was e-mailed to me three weeks later.  However, since then big questions about the security and safety of our genetic privacy have been brought up.   I never imagined how much controversy was ahead after I submitted my test.

The Big Change:

My  reason for bringing up this post, is because last October I received a notification from Ancestry. Due to the influx of more than 13,000 samples my DNA results had been “updated.” What they mean by updated is that they changed nearly 30% of my estimated results! I knew that the service works by tabulating and ultimately guesstimating portions of genetic markers.  I just did not thing the results could change so much.

It still aligns with some of my family research.  (By the way, I am still over 50% British.)  Some of my higher predictions like southern European and Spanish dropped to less than 4 percent each.  It was then replaced with 20% French and a percentage of German ancestry. Both sides of my family have colonial French roots all the way back to 1700, and I have a known if a Bavarian great-grandfather.  A surprising newspaper article confirmed another ancestor I mistook as a different origin as well.   In that paper,  I found a British great-great grandmother that was originally thought to be Spanish.  I am sure I will find some more proof as I continue to research.

I am much more understanding of the change now that I have done some research.  The more samples the company acquires the more markers can be identified and correctly placed.  I would not be surprised in if it changed again.

Are you nervous for your genetic information?

In preparation for this post, I read through many warning and cautionary tales about sending in DNA to these big companies.  There are many fears of people being denied insurance, charged for crimes, being passed over for jobs, and even cloned based off of the sample!  It’s a rabbit hole of what ifs and it happened to my friend…

These concerns are worth considering.  As of June 2018 it was estimated Ancestry’s DNA database contains over 9 million samples.  That is roughly the population size of Honduras or the state of New Jersey.

I live with the belief that anything placed online or uploaded is at risk.  When I sent in my DNA last November I was taking that risk.  I do believe more laws will come and greater security measures as well to meet the demand of privacy.  Or I could be wrong, and a brunette 5’2 mini-me is being created.  I just really hope they remove the risk of the adrenal tumor before creating her.

One thing I would like to clarify from my reading is the difference in the paid services and free sites.  All the criminals found through DNA searches were retrieved by loading crime scene DNA into open source non-profit groups. The big companies are not allowing this kind of open source sharing. (As of now anyway.)

There is also a positive side where people are connecting with long lost relatives.  Some even finding birth parents and half siblings!  It truly is the great unknown word of genetic matching, and I am in for the ride.

Hindsight is 20/20:

Would I do it again?  My answer is a solid probably.  My curiosity simply over turns my sense of fear.  Especially after finding my results shifted, I have used it as a guide to find if I’m on the track.  However, I don’t think of it as final.  It’s just part of the evolving story of me and my family history.

What was your DNA test experience?

My DNA Results are in!

My DNA Kit

After years of wanting to give it a try, I jumped at the chance to have my DNA tested when my mother offered to order a kit for me as a Christmas present.  I chose Ancestry DNA because it is the service used by my in-laws as well as a great uncle.  Ancestry is currently running a deal where the kits are 79 dollars instead of 99.  Please be aware there is around a 8 dollar shipping cost.  Bonus:  If you are a member of Ebates you can also receive 7.5% cash back on any Ancestry product!

Anyway, I was curious to see how my genealogy research has stacked up to the realty of my own DNA.  So I would like to take this moment to walk you through the process from beginning to the reveal!

My predictions:

Before ordering the DNA kit, I thought about all my previous research.  I predicted based on my physical features and my own family research.  I predicted the following results:

  • 40% Spanish
  • 15% Croatian, German (Bavarian), and Swiss
  • 10% French
  • Less than 10% British
  • Maybe 1% Native American

I thought about this considering the distance between generations of my family story.  The Croatian, German, and Swiss all come from great great grandparents.  While I know there is French on both sides of my family they came to the US in the early 1700s.  The Spanish was consistent through generations of my father’s family.  Plus I have very Spanish features.  (It has made my travels in Spain an easy going experience because I am never mistaken as a tourist!)

The PRocess:

Ordering a kit is a simple process where you create an Ancestry account, and place the order with payment.  It took less than a week or a small box to arrive. (Photographed above.)  It is the size of a small VHS box, and fits easily into the mailbox.  The kit includes two tubes, a prepaid mailer box, and clear instructions on how to complete the test.

You cannot eat, drink, or chew gum up to thirty minutes before collecting saliva.  You have to spit into the clear tube.  (They claim its only 1/4 of a teaspoon, but I had difficulty getting the tube filled!)  You then place the blue tube on top and shake in the blue stabilizing fluid. This step preserves the DNA.  Make sure to register your kit before sending in your results!

There is no need to go to the post office desk.  You can drop it in the mailbox since it is pre-paid.  I ordered the kit on November 5th, received my kit on November 10th, sent it out the next day.   My results arrived on November 23rd.  The whole process took 19 days!  Ancestry does say give 4-6 weeks for processing.  

My Results:

I was very surprised with my results.  I did not anticipate so much of my DNA to be from Great Britain!  It also showed way less Spanish ancestry than I expected.  There was also very little western Europe countries like France, Germany, and Switzerland.  It was amazing to see how my research has been off.  However, on further thought some makes sense when considering migration patterns and the history of these countries.

About 16% of my DNA is a prediction.  These are markers that are further in m family’s past.  Therefore, it is less accurate or trackable.  The amount of Middle Eastern, and central Asian is expected when considering that both Croatian and Spain have been under control of eastern countries.

My main DNA results!

Estimated DNA results!


My Thoughts:

Although my results were surprising for me, it was such a easy and interesting experience.  I would recommend the Ancestry DNA tests due to how easy it is to complete and receive results.  The whole process is sent through e-mail, and updates come in frequently from Ancestry.  You also have the option to link your DNA with other people in order to see possible matches.  (This can be waived if you would like your results to remain private.)  My great uncle showed as my first match, and I see this as a good sign of consistency within the test.

Ancestry uses genetic markers collected all over the world in order to predict your DNA.  Some of these are guesses depending.  Keep in mind that your family may be from other places, and migrated around.  (For example: think of the Irish who left Ireland during the potato famine.)  Also, other relatives are only part of your story.  A uncle only gives you a small portion of possible DNA results.

I look forward to using these results to guide further research by looking more carefully at last names and further into records.