When family stories are untrue

My Great Uncle Nick told the best stories. His arms would wave wildly to illustrate his point. The sound of his voice would rise and fall with emotion. At family reunions I was glued to his side. The stories he shared were filled with so much action and adventure, I was oblivious to everything else.

He often shared that our family was part Native American. He seemed so proud of that. The story goes that one of our Benjamin relatives married a Chief’s daughter to help relations between the pioneers and the Native Americans. That’s right, he married an Indian Princess.

Another of his often repeated stories was of a Benjamin relative who fought in the Spanish American War. He talked about how he saved several men during a key battle. My Benjamin relative was so brave and heroic that he was given the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Medal was displayed in a special frame in the living room for many years.

Uncle Nick would pause. His voice became softer and seemed sad.

During the Great Depression, the Benjamin’s were struggling to make ends meet. They sold the medal  for cash to help support the family.


Now fast forward several years. A friend of mine introduced me to genealogy. The first thing I wanted to research was the validity of these stories.

After I learned to do the basics, I moved to researching the stories. Uncle Nick had passed away a few years before so talking to him wasn’t an option. I turned to research my Benjamin line.  But something wasn’t adding up.  My Benjamins lived in a farming community that was no where near a Native American village. I haven’t been able to account for every Benjamin relative yet but so far no Indian Princesses.

Okay, strike one.

When I couldn’t find any Benjamin’s that lived near Native American lands I moved  to researching Congressional of Honor Medal recipients. I never found anything.

Strike two.

Frustrated, I talked to my friend, Sue, who taught me about genealogy. She was shaking her head with laughter when I told her about the Indian Princess. She said it was unlikely I was Native American royalty and that many families have tall tales that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Strike three.

Lesson learned. All families pass down stories that are untrue. Families may have gotten the facts wrong, change the story to paint them in a better light or bold face lie. As a storyteller, what should you do? First, add the story to that person’s record.  Sometimes there is a kernel of truth in what they shared. Remember, your job is to write the story and not pass judgement. Then, do your research. Note anything you may have or have not found.

Good Luck in finding your Indian Princess!


Before you Go…

Thank you for taking the survey. Some of you asked for a post on how I write my family stories. I will be sharing that with you as a post as well as a template. Look for it soon.








6 thoughts on “When family stories are untrue

  1. Hi

    As someone once said… “if its not true, well it should be…”

    I’d also say that stories can also contain a truth. I interviewed my Auntie whose mother’s birth name was ‘Griffiths’ (with a ‘s’) as people know these kinds of things can make searching more tricky. Anyrate she mentioned casually to me the problem with the name was that she had heard it was changed from ‘Griffin’ because when people emigrated the names weren’t always clear etc.

    Interesting as I worked backed through the line I came to my convict ancestor Michael who arrived in 1820 whose name on the convict indents is Michael Griffin… So sometimes stories can hold a truth (as well as distort it).



    PS I have your blog post emailed to me but there’s no link on the post to reconnect directly with here as far as I can tell.

    1. Hi Shane, thanks for sharing your story! I will also take a look at the links.

  2. There is a Benjamin story about the Native Americans attacking and killing some of the Benjamin family. There is a book on Family Search yet it contains errors.

  3. Loved this story and always enjoy hearing how genealogists discover the real stories entwined in their family lore. Add a write up in your Uncles information about how he was the family “story” teller for sure. I wonder who told him the stories…?

    DNA testing would help define your ethnic origins. Go further with the test results by uploading your raw data to GEDMatch and using some of their analysis tools to dig deep into your “royal” origins.

    Mags Gaulden

    1. Thanks, Mags, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t done DNA testing yet, it’s something I will be tackling soon. I’m really interested to see what comes up!

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