Do you remember playing the childhood game called “telephone” – the game where the first person in line whispers a phrase into the second person’s ear, and the phrase is then repeated down the line? When finally at the end of the line, the phrase almost always ended up being vastly different than what it was at the outset. And so it goes with family stories – sometimes they are true, but many more times, they are simply family legends and myths.
I receive weekly contacts and inquiries from other genealogy enthusiasts who are hunting the same family lines that I am. Nearly everyone has a story to tell – a story that has been handed down through the generations about their ancestors. Some of the family stories that I hear most often include:
“Our family has Native American ancestry. Our great-grandma was a Cherokee Indian Princess.” This story never varies – it’s always a Cherokee – never another tribe – and it’s always a female princess – never a male king, prince or chief. 🙂 The majority of the Curbow researchers that have contacted me have made this same assertion. I have done extensive research on several Curbow lines and have never found proof of Native American lineage and there has been no Cherokee Indian Princess lurking among the ancestors! From the Cherokee Museum: The Cherokee never had princesses. This is a concept based on European folktales and has no reality in Cherokee history and culture.
“Our family is related to Jessie James, John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone , etc., etc., etc.” Of course, it’s only human nature, to want to lay claim to one of these American legends and place them in our family tree. It is also true that not everyone with the surname James can be traced back to Jessie James – and not everyone named Boone can trace their roots back to Daniel Boone. Such a relationship can only be proven by diligent research and proper sourcing.
“Our first American ancestors were three brothers who came to America…..” I ponder the fact that it’s never five brothers or six sisters – always three brothers!!! I hear this family story very often and so it was with our Curbow family. When I first seriously began researching the family all I had heard was: “Three brothers came to America from Ireland.” None of this proved to be even close to the truth. Do your research!
I’ll share a few of our own family stories that l have been researching:
Brothers, Joseph Curbow (1755-1850) and William Curbow (1757-?) were both Revolutionary War soldiers. The family story states that both Joseph and William were present at the British surrender in Yorktown in 1781. Fact or fiction?
Lieutenant-Colonel John West was said to have committed adultery against his wife and left her to live with Cockacoeske – Queen of the Pamunkey – and purportedly a cousin to Pocahontas. Fact or fiction?
One of the “Curbo girls” married into the John Wesley Hardin family. The “Curbo boys” ran with the gang and are responsible for burning down the Courthouse in Hill County, Texas in the late 1870s. Fact or fiction?
With all this said, I do believe that most family stories begin with a smidgen of truth. In other words, where there is smoke there might be a fire. Take it all with a grain of salt and do your own research being careful to source every fact. The family story that has been passed down to you may be a starting point that leads you to breaking through a brick wall and compiling a very successful and interesting family tree.
Happy Hunting !