How much of your family history comes from your imagination?
“None” is the typical – and expected – response. Most of us, after all, meticulously research our families before accepting something as gospel. We check every type of record imaginable and collect stories from responsible, trusted family members. If we have questions, we ask them. We leave no avenue unexplored.
True, true, true. Then we fill in the gaps ourselves. We make assumptions based on what we know (or think) to be true and create the best, most accurate – and complete – scenario we can in our own mind.
I thought of this as I read Rich Remer’s recent story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Remer spent 25 years researching his family’s history through deeds, wills, letters, newspaper clippings, maps and diaries. He traced his roots to a Philadelphia-area butcher in the mid-1700s.
A recent highway project uncovered parts of that butcher’s shop and an archaeological excavation began. Exploring six trash pits on the property, researchers found a bowl, broken teapot, a domino, a peach pit, apple seeds and animal bones, among other things.
Remer, whose research hit a brick wall about a decade ago, was ecstatic about the find, which was clearly indicated on maps he already had discovered. From the article:
“The site, Remer said, already has shown what his documents could not. Bowls the family might have used for dinner. A creamer that perhaps sat on their table. Bones from a meal, maybe. A peek inside their lives.”
"This completes the record," he said. "I'm touching my ancestors."
Hmmm, maybe. Maybe not. The man was a butcher, after all. The lesson here, I think, is to be careful about reaching conclusions based on ambiguous, flimsy evidence.
Writing prompt of the day: What, if any, part of your family’s story are you skeptical about? Why do you doubt it? How can you confirm or deny it?