Week 1 Family Lore

Secrets and Lies

Despite working on my family history for almost two decades, I cannot think of much if any lore that I’ve heard. The one “lore” that immediately comes to mind is the idea that we had an Indian (Native American) Princess in our family line.  I wasn’t long into doing genealogy when I learned that is one of the most common myths families tell – if not the most common.  I have found zero evidence to prove that piece of lore.

Still racking my brain, I began thinking that my family seemed more intent on keeping secrets than boasting about stories that might never have happened. I could write reams about family secrets – some very intentional, others just not spoken about or lost to the ages.

My maternal great grandmother Minnie MacDougal Joslyn died not long after the birth of a child in 1902. My grandmother, who was about 3 years old at the time of her mother’s death, was adopted and her siblings were splintered and sent to different places. Not until my grandmother was an adult, did she learn she was adopted and that she had living siblings – one sister and four brothers.

My mother knew most of this, but she didn’t know that there was a baby who had died, or that her mother’s mother was institutionalized in an asylum prior to her death.  These weren’t secrets, just facts that either weren’t spoken of or were unknown to the surviving siblings.  I remember telling my mother about all this and she seemed skeptical, her disbelief was real. In her mind she thought, “How could I not know these things? And if I don’t know them, how can they be true?”

In the past couple of years, I discovered an ancestor who was killed during the Civil War – in battle. He was my grandfather’s grandfather. Why did my grandfather never speak of this? He himself was a veteran of the First World War and proud of his service. Did he know of his grandfather’s death at the second battle of Winchester in 1864? Why did I only learn of it in 2022?  Certainly not a secret but that would have been a great piece of family “lore” history.

There are many more secrets – some involved decades of deceit and lying. At the time the secret seemed to be the best plan, the hidden truths often were kept secret to protect people, protect reputations, to hide pain, shame, embarrassment and more.  As a genealogist and historian, the shame and pain connected to the lies (secrets) diminishes as we seek the truth and intend to report the facts as accurately as possible. The past is often not above reproach. The ancestor(s) who owned slaves remain and always will be a painful chapter in our past but we must record what happened – the secrets, the lies, the half truths need to be looked at and written in the most honest accurate way possible.