A Weak Foundation


I recently read an article in our local newspaper regarding a politician in another state. But the subject of the article was not politics--it was her claims of ancestry.

The woman running for congressional office described, both behind the podium and by pen, her American Indian ancestry. Yet, she does not seem to outwardly portray any physical resemblance to Indian heritage, which has brought speculation to her claims.

Now, this alone is not unusual. Many people with American Indian blood do not carry distinct Indian features. But as others have looked further into the politician's claims, her story seems built on family lore and no bloodline has been proven. It is just a family story of a great great great grandmother of Indian heritage. The politician is not on an Indian Tribal Roll and she cannot produce a document verifying the alleged ancestry.

Family lore is often whimsical and fascinating; a good story passed across the holiday table but good genealogy--it is not. Stories that pass from generation to generation often change as they are told. And unless proven by primary sources such as birth, death and marriage documents, the lore's value is purely family entertainment, nothing else.

As I have delved deeper into the field of genealogy, I find myself more sensitive to the subject of family myth versus proven family historical fact. The former is built on shaky, wobbly ground whereas the latter has a strong, solid foundation: The kind of foundation that upholds the family's values, culture and truth.

And is that not what we want for the next descendents of our family?

The interest is genealogy is spreading rapidly. But as genealogists and researchers, let us reinforce the importance of sound, proven family history. So the next generations can enjoy the real stories of their family heritage, and feel pride in whatever that heritage might be.

Keep searching for answers,


Jennie clasped their large umbrella while she and her young children hovered below. The pounding rain splashed into her laced boots as she tucked her whimpering infant underneath her coat for protection. Both daughters shivered and danced from the cold but Jennie positioned her head high; proudly watching her husband George as he lectured from the outdoor stage.

The speech was soon complete and as Jennie and her children hurried to George's side, they instantly spilled out compliments. "You were wonderful," Jennie announced to her husband, eyes sparkling with warmth. But the love and praise of his family could not avert the monster that would soon grab hold of his body: the sudden and overwhelming onset of pneumonia.

Later into the evening, after the family dried from the cold, steady rain; George developed a strange shiver. His wife, attentive to her husband's needs, was taken back by the paleness of his face. Jumping to retrieve her family medical book, Homeopathic Remedies, Jennie swiftly fingered the pages and focused on the caption: "Cures fevers, congestions, inflammations."

"Here, take this, George," and Jennie poured a spoonful of elixir down her husband's throat. But as the evening drifted into the night's darkness, George's body grew weaker and limp and Jennie was frozen with fear.

Attentively stationed by her husband's side until dawn, Jennie brushed a cold dampened cloth across his feverish face. George's chest rattled as he struggled to take each breath and his wife focused her eyes on the clock; anticipating his next dose of medicinal syrup. But as the day faded once again into night, George Jones slipped slowly away. And the young family was left without the husband and father they so dearly loved...

The cause of death of my great grandfather may never be verified. Dying in 1900 in West Virginia; state death records were not yet mandated. But recently, a cousin provided a previously unheard of family story: "George Jones died from pneumonia after delivering a speech in the rain!"

What an odd story; but certainly not unreasonable. Home remedies were the most customary form of medical care in 1900 and without the use of antibiotics; death from pneumonia and influenza was common.

But the real clue that could unravel this family fable is the "speech in the rain."  With that one small but tantalizing hint, I will begin my exploration into George Jones' death. First sifting through archived newspapers for community events that could mirror the story and then on to obituaries.

Perhaps nothing will unfold from my death investigation but then again; the effort is worth a try. Because genealogy is not just about gathering names and dates: It is about peeling back the family fables and enriching the family stories.

And delivering that story to the next generation.

Keep searching for answers,