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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matters: Family lore -- truth or fiction?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm always reminding folks to record their family histories. Not long ago a friend and I were talking about this when she asked, "What do you do when stories seem to differ, depending on who's telling them?"

I advised her to record them all, for there could be bits of truth in each version. I'm no expert on these matters, but I'm pretty sure that often happens. Stories of my paternal grandfather who was an orphan are a good example. His name first appears in Indiana census records as a 12-year-old living with a German family in rural Clark County.

Dad told us that his father seldom spoke of his early years, but he once said his mother had left him on a dock on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, KY. A river boat captain, finding the lost child, had taken him to his home area, across the river in Indiana. In another version of the story other relatives understood he'd been abandoned in a city park, and that he remembered his mother as having red-hair. I debunked that theory on genetic grounds because there wasn't a single natural red-head in my whole bevy of cousins.

Another story about my grandfather concerns his muzzle-loading rifle, which I have. He had brought it along when the family came from Indiana to Nebraska to file a Tree Claim in Gosper County. I assumed they'd come by covered wagon until an account written by my eldest aunt revealed that they traveled by train to the end of the rail line at Red Cloud NB. From there they rode to the claim site with a man who was hauling mail. So much for my "prairie schooner" fantasies!

My dad, whose name was Fielding Edward, and who had one brother, Clyde, always told that a gentleman named Clyde Fielding had kindly loaned money to my grandfather so he could take this plunge. Out of gratitude, he'd named his first son, Clyde, and had given Fielding to his only other, for a first name. But my cousins had understood that their venture had been financed by a small inheritance my grandmother had received. Who's to say? You see why I recommend keeping track of all the tales?

There's a similar story in my husband's family. When the famed baseball player, Bobby Doerr, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, was in his prime, several distant cousins, all great baseball fans, convinced themselves that he was descended from a great-uncle who had preceded the Iowa Dorrs to the US.

He had settled in Pennsylvania and the family had lost track of him. True, some family members had translated the "o with an umlaut" to "oe" so it might have been possible. However, when former baseball great, Bill Zuber, opened his restaurant at Homestead in the Amana Colonies, we ate there on occasion, always enjoying the food and admiring his collection of baseball memorabilia.

On seeing a picture which included Zuber and Bobby Doerr, my husband struck up a conversation and asked if he knew where Doerr had come from. "Oh, yes," he told us, "Bobby was born in California but always considered Oregon his home."

So much for that bit of family lore, for it had been established that none of the family had moved west that early.

In spite of the disparities, it's fascinating stuff, if you are into genealogy. If not, it probably doesn't really matter to you. Still, you should remember that even if you aren't interested, a twig on your branch of the family tree may develop a passion for that sort of thing someday and never forgive you for any omissions of which you are guilty. At any rate, you can't say you haven't been warned!