Thursday, August 18, 2011

Those three brothers who came to America--probably not a myth and not just hogwash

Don’t discard the baby with the bathwater. Family narratives are valuable. Bits of information and great stories will not determine who your ancestors are. But they truly are a great place to start the search, and should never be discarded. Even if you decide all your ancestors’ stories were hoaxes, you have not proven and learned everything. You still need to find out why the story was created, or how it originated. And the stories just might be true, in some way or another. You might get lucky with a story that is easily verified, or you might have to be very creative in exploring options for where its germ of a narrative came from.

I keep seeing examples of how the three brothers myth is proven through paper trails and/or DNA.
Stories that are handed down might be made up of whole cloth, but I always look to see if there is a grain of truth, or even more.  Stories were retold over generations, not because they were fascinating fiction, but because something about them made sense to the narrator and the listener. Stories do change over time.  Those of us who hear the stories don’t accept them the way we might a newspaper article.  We are intrigued, drawn in, and we want to know what about the story is true, and what it tells us about our ancestors.
A story with no immediately clear supporting evidence is not a platform for building information on an ancestor. But it is a prompt to look for 1) supporting evidence, 2) the reasons the story was told and that it persisted, and 3) what about the story might be true.

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