“Your great-great grandfather carried the flag during Pickett’s charge.”
“Your 4th great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee.”
“Your ancestors owned three businesses but lost them all betting on a horse race.”
Everyone has a collection of outlandish family stories that have been passed down through the generations. In this series, I will dig in and try and prove whether or not your dear old granny is actually a liar.
Before starting, it is important to note that this isn’t really to “stump the genealogist” or even finding out every detail of exactly what happened in place of the family legend. This type of exhaustive research can take many miles, years, and dollars. I will, however, investigate each query as much as I reasonably can in the hopes of confirming or debunking the myth or at least finding some grain of truth.
To show that no family is immune to these stories, I will start with an easy example that came straight from my own granny.
Is my granny a liar?
I was told that my great-grandfather lied about his age when he immigrated by himself to the United States from Belgium. Aloysius “Louis” Verbeke, was born in Watervliet, Belgium on 24 February 1884. There is still a bit of mystery surrounding his early life, like who exactly his father was, but we have found this solid proof of his birthday in the civil records of Watervliet, Belgium.
According to this passenger manifest, he immigrated to the United States aboard the S.S. Kensington setting sail from Antwerp, Belgium on 7 October 1899 and arriving in the port of New York on 17 October 1899. His age was listed as 17 and he was traveling by himself to his final destination of Atkinson County, Illinois.
Aloysius Verbeke, passenger list, via the New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Ancestry.com.(click to enlarge)
If we do the math based on his birth certificate we see that he was really just 15 years old when he left Belgium for the United States. In fact, we find him again in the 1900 Federal Census, living in Illinois, where his age was listed correctly as 16 years old.
Aloysius Verbeke, census record, via the1900 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com.(click to enlarge)
So in this case, my granny was not a liar, but rather it was my great-grandfather who lied about his age when he immigrated to the United States at the age of 15.
One of the most rewarding parts of doing genealogical research is making new revelations about long-accepted stories. By finding as much evidence as possible we can either debunk a long-held myth or feel more confident in telling the tales of our ancestors’ lives. I look forward to continuing this series by looking into more family legends and calling out grannies in the future.*
Have a family story you would like to get to the bottom of? Send your query with as much details as you know to firstname.lastname@example.org
*Note: We here at Deep Genealogical Services love and respect all grannies. This is merely a catchy title for a blog series and in no way meant to slander or defame any geriatric relatives.