Monday, 9 May 2011

A Pinch of Salt

Bertha DAMERELL (my great grandmother) died of pneumonia.  The story goes that several of her children were ill, and she got up to tend to them in the night, even though she was ill herself...and died shortly thereafter.

Or is this all rather muddled?  She was only 51 when she died (the same age as me!), and her death certificate does indeed say that she died of pneumonia, but something just doesn't feel right.

This is an example of how stories that are passed down from generation to generation are not always 100% correct.  Several times I have been told a family legend, and then when I have done the names-and-dates research I have found that the dates mean that Person A just couldn't have married then, as they were only five years old, or Person B was dead by the time they were supposed to have completed the task described in the legend...

However, I never discount family stories.  Often, they are not complete fabrications, but do have a grain of truth in them, and these grains put together form a clue.  Clues put together can often create a research avenue - and then you find the bare-bones truth.  For instance: there was the family story of great-great-grandfather being kicked in the head by a horse, and his daughters had to be taken out of convent school because the business was ruined.  Actually, they ended up in the workhouse for another reason entirely, along with the sons - but I would never have thought of looking there, if I hadn't had the exciting story of the horse and the convent school - besides which, I had thought he only had one daughter...

Or how about the ancestor who changed his age and ran away to sea? Except he didn't: the General Register Office method of dividing a year into quarters meant that he was registered in a different quarter to his birth - and later he became a coastguard in Ireland...

So my advice to anybody new to research is: take everything with a pinch of salt, but don't discard the salt cellar.

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