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Family History Discrepancies (& Myths) - My Story
In Response To: Family History Discrepancies ()


I read your story with a sense of deja vu, as it nearly mirrored a recent experience of mine.

My mother's father was estranged from his extended family in Ohio. Short of a very close relationship with his only sister, rare visits from his only brother in another state, and the regular visits from a few aunts, my grandfather and his large family stayed to themselves in Depression-era Columbus. As the story was told, there were some in his family that disapproved of him marrying my grandmother. Hearing the story as I was coming up, it is alleged that it was because of her dark complexion, as my grandfather's people were indeed very "White-appearing." It seemed to bother everyone but my grandparents. They raised their children, and endured all that life dealt them including hard times, illness, accidents, and the deaths of five of their children.

My grandfather was "old-school." As long as you lived in his house, you abided his rules, which were many and firm. When my mother was 18, she joined the military to escape her father's strict household. While stationed at Ft. Knox, she met my father who was from Indiana, and they ultimately settled there where my sister and I were born. A number of years later, their marital separation saw my mother, sister, and I moving to New York, and residing with that beloved sister of my grandfather for a time. We made our lives there and grew up, staying close to my great-aunt for many years.

It was during that time of becoming acquainted with my great-aunt that I developed my love and passion for genealogy, as a child at her knee. I longed to have that connection with the people I came from. I never knew my grandfather because he died when I was a year old. My relationship with my grandmother was renewed when I moved to Ohio as an 18-year old. Looking back, though, I have worked on my family history since I was a seven-year old, listening to my great-aunt's storytelling.

During those early years in Ohio, my mother made contact with an older man in a small Ohio town who was somehow related to us. One of the first things he asked her on the telephone was how light she was, "...because we are very light!" To hear him tell it (secondhand from my mother), his ancestor was allegedly not Black at all, but was of Spanish descent. The surname was supposedly Anglicized from the original Spanish surname, which he provided. Not knowing any different, and not having any other old and sage family members to verify this story with, my mother assumed he was correct. Why would he lie about it?

Fast forward to a few months ago. My inquiring mind has a tendency to grasp onto things like a pit bull. I had continued with my genealogy research as an adult and was rewarded. Earlier this year, I was successful in tracing back to my maternal ggggrandparents who were living in Ohio as FPOC's in 1850 and perhaps before. I had finally broken through to the period pre-1870, and was thrilled! After that, things went very quickly, as I was very easily able to follow the trail of my ggrandfather's oldest brother's descendants forward as far as 1930.

After some genealogical detective work, I was able to locate a site that featured the family of the woman who married my ggrandfather's brother. After a few emails, I was put in touch with a collateral relative of hers. He listened to my research over about a week. Ultimately, he was as ecstatic as I was, and was eager to put me in touch with one of this couple's descendants--a gggranddaughter residing in Detroit. He told me that she would be equally excited to hear from me. After speaking with her first, he gave me her cell phone number and urged me to phone her immediately.

I steeled myself to place the call, gathering all my documetnation in front of me. I called her, cordially. I was treated like a vagrant at her door! I heard the reluctance and the hesitation in her voice when my story did not match up with their family's elder--the same man who questioned my mother's complexion over the telephone! Sensing her reticence, I forwarded her documentation (via email) of the census records showing her ancestor and mine residing in the same household year after year, and then residing in the neighboring towns in the same county as adults. I also provided the previous ones showing the brothers' father, both parents, and their grandparents! The woman never even responded to my emails.

Then, for the coup de grace, the collateral relative phoned me within 24 hours to inquire how our conversation went. I could tell that he was treading lightly when he asked me what she had said to me. Apparently, she phoned him immediately after speaking with me, and asked, "Why is everybody always trying to be in OUR family?" He was so apologetic, and felt very badly that she did not respond as warmly as he had expected. He also believed that she would have been grateful to hear from someone who has done as much research as I have. He, and another collateral relative, are working to put me in contact with other descendants that may or may not be more receptive.

Have I been deterred? Not in the least. I will say, though, that the experience was disenchanting and disheartening. I've dusted myself off, though, and reapplied myself to my work with even more vigor than before. I don't need "permission" or an "invitation" to research a family of which I am already a part.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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