How should I deal with a published family myth?

+8 votes
254 views
It is a real, published, book and can be cited as such. I'm not sure if I should.

The book is a fictionalized story, claiming to be based upon family tradition and supported by systematic research in the church records. The main point, however, has been carefully constructed as undocumented because of cover-up.

Research in church records and other documentation cannot have been all that thorough. There are blatant errors about easily available facts, even in the immediate family of the protagonist: things like a sister being present in a supporting role five years after this sister died, while the other two, living, sisters do not get mentioned.

The "sidekick", playing an important role in the story, is a completely invented person, with a fairly ordinary name that happens not to have been used at all in those parts at the time.

I'm not going to refute the book point by point. Should I mention it at all?  What do you think?
WikiTree profile: Karl Johan Blomgren
in Policy and Style by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (432k points)

5 Answers

+6 votes
I -personally- would mention it, just making sure this is a side story. If you describe well that  it is really not true, as you have proof, it might add well to some profiles and finally put a stop to the source being abused.

Just don't make a profile for the fictional person (but you are truly a great Wikitreer, so no warning need I am sure).

On the side: I started out my family tree long time ago with a partely made up book that was sold to us. It even had a coat of arms in it. Trouble back then was, even though I warned people visiting my own published online tree, they would still just copy it. Remnants of the fake parts can still be found online, without source for sure. So I quickly removed my tree again leaving me with bad feeling. I should not have published the fake parts of the tree, just the story.
by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (223k points)
This is not about descent from a fictional person, it's about fictional descent from a real person.

I certainly won't profile the sidekick ;-)

One could also argue it is standard practice to write about sources/works/others that you agree and disagree with.

The 'discussion' section of a scientific paper is very important. That is the place where you put value to your own work, show what is proven (according to you), where more work needs to be done, and who you agree or disagree with.

So I wouldn't worry too much about mentioning the book in that respect. And yeah, families being hurt.... All Dutch descent from Willem of Orange so to say... it is just the proof that is wrong or lacking wink

Spot on with Willem  of Orange :-) - just that my case is a little closer in time.
+10 votes
Yes, you should publish contrary evidence if you find it.  Not all descendants of this line want to know the fantasy story, many want to know the truth.

A cousin and I are in the middle of a similar situation.  We have discovered some errors (fabrications) in the linie of a man who was a famous Revolutionary War General, a Congressman, and later a State Governor.  The man's father was a convict from England sent to Virginia on a penal transport.  

The true history of the family was embarrassing so someone created a fantasy lineage that shows the father as son to refugee Huguenot Noblemen from France with relations to Spanish Royalty.  The whole history is easily disproven but the descendants of this line won't be too happy to learn of the change of their origins.

We will, over time, publish our findings and set the record straight.  It will be an uphill battle but as they say, "paper wins in court."  So long as we document everything properly, those who want to know the real truth will be able to find it.

I recommend that you do publish your findings and set the record straight.
by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
In this case the real story was already quite well sourced here in WikiTree before I became aware of the fictional (and contradicted) descent for one of the family members being all "over the Internet". It took even longer before I realized there was a book published.

It's not my family, and probably a sensitive business for the family. I will have to think twice and three times how I word it, if and when I write about it.
+4 votes
Not an easy thing to answer without what "kind of book" it is.

If it is a historical fact book it would be very big mistakes but if it is an "ordinary person" who published a book about their specific "family history" we know that those can contain lots of errors.

Would it be a solution to make a free-space profile for the book and point out the errors and why it should not be used as a reliable source? You could even add links to first hand sources, such as churchbooks, that contradict the info in the book.
by Maggie Andersson G2G6 Pilot (128k points)

I think you know what I have been working on that made me want more opinions on what to do ;-)

I just coached my question in very general terms to get as many opinions as possible.

It's not a case of "many errors" that might be used for further genealogical research, but a case of one unsupported fictional claim of descent. All the errors detract even more from the credibility of the central claim. It would have been so easy to make the background story better :-) I find it a bit upsetting, so if I decide to mention it (which I probably should) I will have to be very disciplined about it.

I think I do... and in this case I actually think the book should be mentioned, along with that it should not be considered as a source since it differs from actual sources (and I guess there is not register of actual sources to back the "fictional part" of the book).

I support Maggie's recommendation that you create a freespace page for it-- you could follow the format that Rick Pierpont uses for source pages, then add commentary.

I've done that a few times; here are a couple of examples:

https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:History_of_the_Daniel_Boone_National_Forest_1770-1970

This one goes into great detail about the problems of the source:

https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Our_Patawomack_Ancestors

Nice examples, Jillaine!

And of course there is no list of actual sources in the book, Maggie - it just says "family tradition" and "systematic research in the church records". Actually makes me curious about an undiluted version of the family tradition, considering how the church records have been treated, which is that the obviously embarrassing facts from actual records have been explained away or ignored - and background facts that would have strengthened the credibility of the book as a piece of research have not been looked for.

I'm not sure the book warrants a Freespace page - as Maggie probably knows, and Jillaine probably doesn't, there are already a number of thoroughly researched profiles in the family cluster.

I am also hesitant to showcase it too much, because the book is not an academic publication although it is published in the belief that its central point is true. And it's fairly recent, by a still living author.

Eva, another one which I don't think I've created a space page for, is a mid 20th century work -- all of 45 pages -- that opens with an admission that the story includes fiction.  And yet, subsequent published authors and a slew of descendants rely on that work to insist on a set of individuals and relationships (with real people) who never existed and events that never happened. It's wild. 

(If you want to take a peek at our analysis... -- I remain really proud of the work we did on this one... )

What I am reminded of is how important it is that we "out" these problem documents, because a tiny 45-page self-published book that was probably only intended for immediate family or for telling stories at a family reunion took on a life of its own over the following 50+ years.

Cut it off at the pass!

Hear! Hear!  That's an ambitious project you have.
It was... It took three of us with help from a few other hands over oh, 4-6 months of pretty solid intensive research. And the beating up we got from descendants who are convinced of the truth of the story.... it was one of the more interesting pieces of research I've collaborated on. I do believe that one of the results from it was the taking down from the internet one of the subsequently published pieces that was perpetuating the fiction-as-fact.

But some descendants are still mad. Oh, and Eve, none of the researchers on this effort were family members, and a couple of the published authors were still alive.
That's work to be proud of, Jillaine. And very clearly presented in the table.

In the case I'm working on I bought the book because I was contacted by a descendant, who objected to the untruths about her family on one of the profiles I manage - this referring to a family cluster we (me and an external collaborator) have put more research into than usual because of family complications like eight children out of nine being born out of wedlock - and the documented (in some cases) or likely (in other cases) father being bigamously married to other women (same guy all the time, I believe). Two of the documented children were born and baptized under assumed names for the parents - which is revealed by the court documentation when the father was tried for theft... So there's a heavy social stigma, which I have endeavoured to treat objectively, but with empathy.

I had noticed that the eldest son was all over the Internet as the illegitimate son of the king (Karl XV, so a little more recent than your Cornblossom tangle). But before I was contacted I hadn't made the connection to this being one of the more publicized cases of claimed descendancy from this most "fertile" monarch (he fathered half of the illegitimate children in Sweden of his time if rumours are to be believed).

So I bought the book and it's embarrassingly bad, in terms of neglecting research and skewing the few actual facts to support the family myth. It's not self-published, though, not an academic publication, but also not the only book by the same author.
+4 votes
I would bring it up and refute the book, as this is exactly how genealogical fiction gets started -- Nancy Ward's mother being named 'Tame Doe' comes from a fictionalized account of her life, for example, and has been repeated over and over on genealogical sites to the point people believe it is fact.
by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (202k points)
Yes I should think that I need to bring it up. WikiTree is good for this.
Eva - you could do a Free Space page but not link it to the person's profile here if you still have misgivings. Then later, if your misgivings fade, add the link.
The cat is already out of the bag, Lois - see my comment to Jillaine immediately above. I just haven't dealt with the book yet.
+5 votes
The genealogy of my family has been corrupted for generations by such a mythical book.  I'm now doing a Free Space page to try to correct the record, linked from the primary ancestor:  https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:The_Origins_of_William_Hacker
by Lois Tilton G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
Very well written! I'd put my money on "Chicken Bill" - but I see why you don't want to commit.

I realise that at least part of my hesitation is because there is a still living author.
Lois, that is a beautifully written piece, and well deserving actual publishing in a journal.

Check out the section on Chicken Bill, though; you've done something I've been known to do-- switch centuries. You start talking about the 1700s then jump to the 1600s in the same paragraph. I think it's a typo.
Thanks for mentioning the century typo, Jillaine (I guess we all do those now and then) - I saw it but said nothing because I was on my way to my own point ;-)

I've started writing my piece on the book, offline. It's difficult. May well turn out to need a Freespace - I just cannot keep it short.
Thanks, Jillaine.  Fixed.  That's something I do All The Time, especially with the 17th century wearing a groove in my brain.

The Hacker's Creek group has a journal, and I've been thinking of sending the piece there, if I ever finish.
Mine started as a Research Note, Eva, but it outgrew the page.

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