Don’t Fall For A Genealogy Myth

tiara There are many genealogy myths out there. Many have been passed around for so long that they almost seem like truth. I don’t think these myths got started due to an intent to confuse people, or to mess up other people’s genealogy research. Instead, I think these myths exist due to a misunderstanding of a family story, or out of a desire to make your ancestors seem as though they were incredibly important people. The assumption being, of course, that if your ancestors were amazing, then you must be amazing as well. No matter what reason these myths exist, you should be very skeptical of them.

While some families do have a bit of mystery surrounding parts of their family tree, this kind of drama is not necessarily a part of everyone’s family. Realize that no matter what your ancestors did as a job, if they were rich, or if they were poor, they were important. There are countless ways that one person can make an impact on the other people around him, and much of it is not quantifiable or easy to document. Understand that truth is always more valuable than a lie about who your ancestors really were, and resist the urge to claim that you are descended from someone powerful (unless that happens to be true).

Here are some of the most common genealogy myths:

Your ancestor’s surname was completely changed when he got to Ellis Island. According to, this simply was not how things worked. The whole point was to document immigrants, not to obscure who was coming into the country. No one changed your ancestor’s last name because he was Irish, Polish, or any other nationality. There may have been a slight misspelling to your ancestor’s name, but it would only be by one letter. Many new immigrants decided to Anglicize their last names after they arrived here, in order to sound more American. This was not something that was forced upon them at Ellis Island.

Your ancestor’s were royalty. It is extremely unlikely that you actually are related to royal ancestors. Probability alone would discount this theory for most people. We cannot possibly all be related to royalty! Also, you need to realize that most, if not all, royal families have a detailed family tree that has been checked, and rechecked, and checked over again. How is it that no one noticed your ancestor in there? Sometimes, this misconception comes from honest confusion. If your ancestor came from a town that sounds similar to the surname of a royal person, one might scramble up the names. This is one example of why it is so very important to be careful about sources.

You have Native American ancestry. Again, for the majority of people, this simply isn’t true, either. Check your sources closely. This is the sort of idea that can get started from a family story, from a relative that thought it would be cool to be related to a Native American tribe. Or, it could just be another example of what happens when you don’t check your source material very closely. Descendants from Pocahontas, the woman, might turn out to be descendents of non- Native American ancestors who lived in Pocahontas, the town.

Image by etee on Flickr