The Telephone Game, the genealogy way

People are fallible and are often misquoted, misunderstood, or just misinformed.

You have found a death certificate or marriage record and finally you have the proof of the names of your Great Grandfather’s parents, the wait is over and you even hope to find his mother’s maiden name. But wait, what is this? The names are blank, marked as unknown, initials only, misspelled, misnamed or otherwise not what you expected! Then you look at the document more closely and you see that the place of birth is listed as something other than what you understood it to have been. “Wait a minute here, I understood that he was married in _____ and she was born in ____ and they moved to ______ where my great grandfather was a __________…” and so on.

Just because it is an official document does not mean it is all so clear and true. Just because you heard the story one way, does not mean others have as well. Who was the informant and did they have first hand knowledge?

People are fallible and are often misquoted, misunderstood or just misinformed. 

Or the case of “so-and-so said”. You know the stories like the one that says he was royal lineage, last of a clan, fought with General Washington, was wounded at Gettysburg (really he shot himself in the foot to get out service), etc., etc.

You heard your Great-Grandfather was an immigrant. Came over during the war, famine, gold rush, or other time period.  You head from your Father or Grandfather the stories of this man’s youth growing up as an immigrant. The hard times, the sacrifices and lessons learned. Then you start to research his background. You track him through census data, military records, birth,  marriage and death records. There is conflicting information, one says he was born in IL and another in Ireland, or they all come to the same conclusion, he was born in the USA. And these documents prove he was born in the mid-west and never saw war or California but instead had run away at 16 and told the stories to get a new identity!

But you ask……what about the stories?!

The stories we hear are like the telephone game we played as kids. You know the one, where you whisper in someones ear a sentence and by the time it gets around to the 6th or 7th child, the repeated sentence has little or nothing to do with what originally was said.


My own Great-Grandfather was not born in Ireland, his Father was. But he always identified himself as an Irishman, as did the entire family, after all he was the oldest and born less than a year after the wedding, which was in Ireland. It was always assumed and repeated that he was born there. Yet it is not on any document and no records in Ireland exist of his birth there or immigration from. His death certificate lists him as born in IL, only his Find A Grave site notes he was born in Ireland, why? Because the informant assumed what she heard was the truth. This is a case of the generational heard- repeated-embellished-believed storytelling.

Remember, people are fallible and are often misquoted, misunderstood or just misinformed. 

My mother was not raised with her paternal family in her life much. They were in Illinois and she was in the VA-MD-DC area from age 4, being raised by her Grandmother and maiden Aunt. However, she had told me when I was a teen that we were “somehow related” to John Alden, Priscilla Mullins and Myles Standish of the Mayflower. That was all I had ever heard, she knew nothing further. I shrugged and paid little more attention to it.

When I started the path of researching my mother’s paternal line it was not easy. She had no easy answers for me and was no longer close with anyone to ask. But I wanted to know more about any Mayflower connection. I had one book that she had been given when her father’s mother died, “The Blaisdell Papers Volume 1 1935-1941”. This book listed my mother’s birth, her older brother’s birth and countless other family information and stories. Through this book I was able to piece together a couple of generations.

I did a search on the internet and found there was a Blaisdell Family Association and I sent an email to the secretary. She replied that why yes she would be delighted to share with me my Great Grandmother, Edna Leighton Blaisdell McMeekin’s, family history and was happy that I contacted her and she could enter our family information as well. Several weeks later, I received an information packet that was no less than 2″ thick of print outs going past the Mayflower documenting that not only were we “somehow related” but that we are direct descendants of those three passengers as well as four others!  (I was just glad I found the information before she passed and was able to share that with her)

For once the family story, though unclear, was factual.

When in doubt as to a fact, when you can find no evidence to a particular story and think it might be fiction, examine all the evidence! Begin with the first piece, create a timeline with the facts only, look at where and who the data is coming from (first, second or third hand, contemporary or post event) and when all is laid out the evidence will tell you most of the true story. Warning: it might also show that you have more research to do and questions to answer.

There is a DAR lineage through a daughter that I know the Patriot never had. I am descended from him and have researched the family for 25+ years. His family Bible lists all his children, we have his will listing again all the children living, he was a well known man of his time and the family was also well known and documented, and yet the myth of this unknown daughter still exists, after-all her descendants are members of the DAR. One cannot come into the DAR with this particular line anymore, but there it is…out there for anyone to see and to repeat. The timelines, documentation and other evidence disprove this person as a child of his, but the DAR record and on-line trees still maintain and spread the erroneous information. For the record, we believe her first name is misspelled and she is related through another family member, but cannot document her.

There will be those in your family who will not appreciate learning something different than what has always been told. There will be some who might even get angry. However, when it comes down to it, our commitment to the truth and honor to the past is to tell the story as we can prove it and leave it at that. We do not own our ancestors’ stories, we cannot re-write their histories to satisfy family traditions. We just tell it as we have discovered it and let the facts speak for themselves.


About honoredgenerations

Curious by nature, passionate about family and history, I find a special calling to honor our previous generations by finding and telling their stories. Each generation leaves an impression on who we are and these lives, these unique individuals deserve to be remembered "generation unto generation".
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