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FAMILY LEGACY - Folklore vs. Fact

As with many families, stories are passed down from generation to generation of how we came to be in this country. We all have a curiosity of who we are as well as to when relatives arrived in the United States, where they were from and why they made the journey here. It all makes a fascinating history for your family legacy.

However, many times these stories turn out to be not quite the truth we have heard all our lives. Like the game telephone, where children whisper a word into each other’s ear to pass around a circle, the final person’s word may be quite different from the original.

This was the case in my family.

I had long heard tales of bravery in the face of wars and invasions. Tales of how my great-grandparents on both sides of my family fled in the middle of the night escaping imminent wars and invasions of their homeland. These were well-known stories told at the dinner table when I was little.

As I grew older and my great-grandparents and grandparents passed away, I was left curious with questions. Questions that could no longer be asked but only traced with what little information I had from records, writing on the backs of old photos, and oral history. But it wasn’t until the advent of genealogy search sites like Ancestry that I was able to trace my roots with substance.

One story of my great-grandfather “escaping” to South America on a ship and then finding his way to the US through Cuba turned out to me finding his name on a ship manifest from Bremen, Germany to Philadelphia. Another story of my great-grandmother fleeing in the dead of night as troops were invading her town was proven to be another tale entirely. Her mother had died in childbirth, her father remarried and subsequently passed away when she was 13 or 14, and her father’s sister came from the US to take her to New York.

Family folklore makes great and inspiring stories, but we had to laugh at how what we thought we knew to be true turned out to be another thing entirely.


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