52 Ancestors Week 33 - Family Legend

+16 votes

AJC - It isn't unusual for a family to have some sort of legend. Maybe it's a legend surrounding the family's arrival in a country or that there's an ancestral castle waiting to be claimed. Maybe it's a story about how you're supposedly related to someone famous. You could explore how you proved or disproved the story. Then there are the "tall tales" that seem to get taller at every telling!

Another way you could look at this prompt is someone who did something legendary or was considered a legend in their line of work or in their community.

How are you going to interpret "family legend"?

in The Tree House by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
33. My great grandfather was in the British Horse Brigade and arrived for his wedding in full uniform riding a white horse. Must have been romantic!

22 Answers

+19 votes

I’ve got two!

1) It’s common among Dalton descendants (including my relatives) to automatically claim kin to the Dalton Gang, but there’s a debate going on as to if this was true or not. I haven’t really tried to work this one out, so maybe it is and maybe not.

2) I’m a Bowling descendant, and several of my relatives claim those were Bollings early on, so you know what that means. We’re all Pocahontas descendants! Riiiiight. Unproven, but you know every Southerner has some Indian princess in their ancestry, usually Cherokee.

One that was proven to be false among descendants of Reuben Underwood was that his father was a Joseph who fought in the French and Indian War. Turns out it was a Henry whose brother, Benjamin, who did. The part that was correct was that Henry exiled himself to Nova Scotia (the part that is now NB) as a Loyalist.

by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.7m points)
+16 votes
My fourth great grandmother Charlotte Taylor (Taylor-13772) has a number of myths around her. The one that seems to be the most persistent is that she ran away from England with her father's black butler. They went somewhere in the Caribbean where he died and left her alone and pregnant. A ship captain took her under his protection and brought her to the Miramichi area of then Nova Scotia (present day New Brunswick) and got her married to another ship captain, William WIshart. Charlotte outlived William and two more husbands. When I have the time, I'll start with some research done by a "cousin" who has been finding some truth to the legend.

Another myth is about my surname ancestor, John McCallum and that he descended from an O'Neill princess. I doubt the princess part, but from Y-DNA testing of myself and a third cousin, we do associate with the O'Neill clan.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (545k points)
edited by Doug McCallum
+15 votes
My family was fairly law-abiding over the past few centuries, so I'd have to go back further in time to find someone who fits the family legend category.  One thing, though, is that I have a lot of 'legendary' ancestors because my mom's family got Gustav Anjoued.  A lot.  It's taken beaucoup untangling to get rid of some of those lines, but Mr. Anjou et al.'s infamy will continue to live on.
by K. Anonymous G2G6 Pilot (147k points)
+17 votes

Well, my uncle worked on the atomic bomb, but that's pretty recent, and he's a relative but not an actual ancestor. I'm going to go with my great-great grandfather, the legendary preacher from Noble county, Indiana, Peter Winebrenner. It was because of his reputation that my grandfather got to go to U. C. Berkeley.

Peter Winebrenner Image 1

Rev. Peter Winebrenner, legendary circuit-riding preacher for the Christian Church, Eel River Conference. About 1870.

My grandfather, Peter W. Stoner, was named after his grandfather, Peter Winebrenner. I'm not sure that he ever met Peter Winebrenner. The journey between rural Cloud county, Kansas and Indiana was more difficult back then. I know Peter Winebrenner made the trip to visit in 1879, but my grandfather wasn't born until 1888. My grandfather (a devout Christian who did not believe in drinking alcohol) told me that he was embarrassed to have a middle name that meant a brewer of wine, so he legally changed it to W. when he came of age.

Peter W. Stoner went to a small country schoolhouse until he was about 15, then the family moved to Lincoln, Kansas, where he went to Kansas Christian College, completing high school, and earning an "AB" degree (a 4-year degree). After he graduated from Kansas Christian College, he spent a year at Kansas State University, which discounted some of his credits because of them being from a small college, so he could not enter as a graduate student.

Then his family all moved out to southern California, and he went, also, but went north and applied to U. C. Berkeley, in the fall of 1907, as a graduate student. Peter had an interview with the registrar, who also was concerned about the credits from some small podunk college in Kansas, and didn't want to accept him as a student. The registrar, however, was curious as to what my grandfather's middle name was. My grandfather insisted it was just "W". The registrar insisted that it must stand for something. In the end, my grandfather told him the story about being named after Peter Winebrenner, and changing his middle name. Whereupon, the registrar said, "Oh, you're a grandson of Peter Winebrenner of Indiana? I knew him well, and any grandson of Peter Winebrenner is welcome at this university." So my grandfather felt that he only got into the college because of his grandfather's name and reputation.

Peter Stoner

Peter W. Stoner, during his time at U. C. Berkeley, about 1910.

by Alison Gardner G2G6 Mach 8 (85.2k points)
edited by Alison Gardner
+15 votes
My Southern grandmother claimed we were descended from an "Indian princess."  I doubt it, but who knows.  My other grandmother insisted we were related (1st or 2nd cousins N times removed?) to George Washington.  Her genealogy work was... creative... and needs confirmation, but it's actually looking like that might be correct.  It's on my list of things to pursue at some point.  (The WikiTree relationship finder links us to several other presidents, so it's not completely implausible.)
by Lisa Hazard G2G6 Pilot (265k points)
Had a similar tale on my dad's side.  He even jokingly suggested I mention my Native American ancestry in my college applications.  Good thing I didn't because my DNA tests have busted that myth.
+16 votes

When I first started researching my history nearly 30 years ago, I actually interviewed my nan and went to my mum's 2nd cousins on my grandfather's side as he had passed away when I was young.

My mum had always said we were descended from a king and that I had German roots as my father's side of the family had the name Curnick which suppossedly was German for King.

My nan said we were Irish as her grand-father Charles Molloy was supposedly born in Ireland, from an Irish family.

My mum's 2nd cousins said we were descended from King Rufus AKA William III (1056-1100) (even though he died without legitimate issue - so we must be through an illegitimate line even though there is no record of him having any known illegitimate children), My mum's 2nd cousin also said we were related to the famous heart surgeon Christiaan Neethling Barnard (1922-2001)

So when I started research my family, I had no idea where these stories originated from and I highly doubted we would be descended from Kings, but my nan was adamant we were definitely Irish...so off I went fresh after graduation to really start my research in earnest (I'd been putting it off since I was 18 as I needed to get through my Uni course without distractions!).

I purchased all the certificates ( in those days it was a trip to London once a month to search the old heavy index books at Somerset house, put my order in and wait a month for the envelopes to arrive in the post!) After a few months I discovered

1) The legend of being descended from King Rufus came from the fact we were descended from Jane Rufus who I already covered in week one, whose father William Rufus carried the name that King Rufus came to be known by..although when King Rufus was around 1056-1100, hereditary surnames were not in use in England, and didn't become widespread until the 12th-13th centuries. I traced William Rufus's father William Rufus the Elder back to Shropshire, England, but it took another 20 or more years before I finally discovered that he had changed his name from Ruff (when he married in 1818) to Rufus when his first child was baptised. I then discovered that many of his aunts/uncles & cousins also changed their surname from Ruff to Rufus about the same time...so the original family name was Ruff or Roof, but never Rufus!

2) The story of Charles Molloy... well I discovered he was actually born in Rye, Sussex, England in 1848 to the widow Jane Molloy, who husband Francis Porter Molloy (who may or may not have been Irish) had died 9 years earlier in 1839! So Charles was not Irish after all. Charles' mother Jane actually married his biological father Charles Lawrence about 18 months after the birth of Charles. The facts didn't go down at all well with my nan, who refused to believe that Charles was not Irish, so it was a subject that wasn't brought up again in her presence!

and finally 3) I traced the Curnick line back in the hope of finding a German connection. My grandfather Walter Albert Francis Curnick was born in 1922, Kent, England. His father Arthur Sidney Curnick was born in 1881 in Lee, Kent. His father William Thomas Curnick was born in 1842 in Battersea, Surrey. His father Thomas Curnick was born in 1814 in Battersea, Surrey, and his father James Curnick was born in 1780 in Melksham, Wiltshire and the previous 5 generations were all born in neighbouring Seend, Wiltshire.....so no German there..in fact many Curnicks trace their ancestry back to Cornwall!

oh..I missed the conclusion to the Christiaan Barnard story...I'll come back to that one!

by Michelle Wilkes G2G6 Pilot (172k points)
I totally understand about having some subjects that are not brought up because the facts didn't support the story.

I came back to this one to explain how it probably came about that our family was linked to Christiaan Neethling Barnard (1922-2001).

My previously mentioned ancestor Jane Rufus had a sister Alice Rufus who married Samuel Walter Barnard who was a baker, the same as his father before him. 

They had 7 children born between 1888 and 1903 all born at Plumstead, Kent, England.

Christiaan's father was known to be Adam Barnard, and Christiaan was born in South Africa in 1922, and as Alice & Samuel Walter Barnard had no sons named Adam, it seems that the legend arose just through surname association!

+15 votes

“Where is the dinosaur buried in Durand?”  The stuff of legends!  This question from my second cousin at first left me puzzled.  Then, as she added a few more details I realized what she must be referring to.  Our great-grandfather was present as was her grandmother when the circus train crashed in Durand in August of 1903. 

My version of the event came from the perspective of Lottie (Wright) Hart my grandmother who was the oldest child.  She was 21, married and living a few miles away.  What I heard was that it was a big deal and people came from miles around to see the exotic dead animals. 

Then there is the account from the family of Sebia (Wright) Hatherill who was about 11 at the time of the wreck.  This actually passed from grandfather Fletcher Wright to his grandson Raymond.   Raymond was the oldest grandson and spent some summers helping on his grandfather’s farm.  The memorable bit for Raymond’s daughter was that Fletcher lived very close to where the accident happened and he was among the first people at the wreck.  When I looked at the 1900 U.S. Census, Fletcher did indeed live on Oak Street which is very close to where the train wreck took place.

The third sister, Gertie (Wright) Reasoner was almost 7 at the time of the train wreck.  It was Gertie’s granddaughter who asked me about the buried dinosaur. As a child listening to her grandmother’s stories, apparently a buried dinosaur being unearthed made more sense to her than an elephant being buried so that’s what she remembered.  She also had the disadvantage of not being familiar with the Durand area as her grandmother had moved to northern Michigan at the time of her marriage.  So, my cousin didn’t grow up hearing the story of the circus train wreck and the elephant buried in Durand that was common knowledge to those of us living in the Durand area. 

Here are some links about the train wreck:





The accuracy of these sources can be a bit questionable as they don’t agree on: the date (some August 6 some August 7), the time 3:45 AM makes more sense than 8:30 AM since the darkness was a factor in the accident, some comments have a different more well know circus involved.  No mention of any Indian princesses being involved, but maybe enough time hasn't passed yet ... :) 

by Jill Perry G2G6 Mach 4 (45.6k points)
+13 votes
Family lore, eh? Let's see....

1. My great-aunt has told me time and time again that we are related to a Count Marco Ferraiolo from San Pietro a Maida. I have yet to find evidence of him. Then again I haven't been able to ask my cousins in the town about him. They mostly fall on the Tedesco side and may not know about him.

2. My uncle Bob says that a Felker or a Hamel played in the White House band after the assassination of president Lincoln.

Not sure what other family lore bits are out there. Several turned out to be true like my connection to people who fought in the American Revolution and the people who settled Quebec. There's never been anything about a connection to a president.

I do want to find out about this count, though.
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (781k points)
+9 votes
I will do this but it  will be hard one to do. I have several legends: 1) a lot on both sides of my family in my mother and dad side that seemed to be married to Indian princess. 2) On my mom side my mom's mother told my aunt that we are related to 1) President Andrew Johnson who profile is https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Johnson-10479. I haven't confirmed and figured how we are related to him on my mom side. And the 2) one is David Crockett and his  profile is https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Crockett-311. I also haven't confirmed and figured how we are related to him also on my mom side. But I am very interested in how we are related to President Andrew Johnson and David Stern Crockett.
by Living Barnett G2G6 Pilot (506k points)
edited by Living Barnett
+13 votes

What great stories! I didn't know about the Southern Indian Princess common thread. My legend is one that a lot of descendants have been told for centuries. "We are related to the Earl of Mar and there's legitimate claim to recover the inheritance".  I was surprised to learn how "real" the tall tale was! People have paid a lot of money trying to prove it as far back as the 1800's. My great grandparents did have tea with the sitting Earl of Mar at a castle in the '30's. I wish I knew the more details about what was discussed.  Here's my blog post for the week - http://www.libbyonthelabel.ca/2018/08/52-ancestors-week-33-family-legend_14.html#.W3Y3k5YJtsc.link

by Libby Park G2G6 Mach 1 (18.7k points)
There's a good article on Slate regarding the "Cherokee princess" myth and why so many Southern white families have the same story: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/10/cherokee_blood_why_do_so_many_americans_believe_they_have_cherokee_ancestry.html

It's a touchy subject as many people are VERY attached to the "Indian princess" story that their mamaw and papaw told them when they were young. There are numerous threads here on G2G of people getting frustrated because their DNA tests reveal no evidence of admixture. I've also seen folks post pictures of their great-grandmother "with obvious Native American features" who looks like... a regular white person with dark hair.

One of my aunts claimed we were part Apache, which is hilarious considering I don't have a single ancestor born west of the eastern parishes of Louisiana. How an Apache even made it to the Southeastern USA to produce anyone of my ancestors is completely beyond me. My DNA does show a trace of Native American (probably way back in the colonial period) but twice as much African (I'm still 90%+ European, mind you).
Wow, good article!  My mom has a friend who's very attached to her own family legend of "Indian princess" background, despite lack of DNA evidence.  Awaiting my own DNA results now and I'll be curious to see what I find.  Apparently a close relative showed up as ~12% Ivory Coast.  Makes me wonder if the Indian princess story is also cover for what would have been a less socially acceptable relationship in that place and time.
I did not know that! Very interesting article. The Cherokees were peace makers through marriage. It does show how autonomous the women were. Do any of your DNA matches have Native American ancestry?
Lisa, it will be interesting to see what happens with your test. Keep us posted!
Lisa, on another forum I'm on, devoted to genetic genealogy, it is VERY common that people will do DNA tests to find Native American ancestry and instead find African. It seems like "Cherokee princesses" were often used to cover up African ancestry. Most white people with some African heritage come from the Deep South, especially Louisiana and the Carolinas. I personally find it telling that when I tell my relatives (both on here and in real life) about my test results, that they cease to be interested once I tell them I got twice as much African as NA.
That branch of my family is from Georgia/Florida, so it won't surprise me at all if it's a cover story.  The supposed family tree on that side is pretty deep and entirely Western European in origin, but if the genetics suggest other heritage I'll be curious to see if I can use my DNA matches from FTDNA to puzzle things out.  Have to wait a few weeks to get my results back, though.

Had the Indian Princess tale on my dad's side.  He even jokingly suggested I mention my Native American ancestry in my college applications.  Good thing I didn't because my DNA tests have busted that myth.

Got my FTDNA results back... 99% European (various regions), 1% West African, 0% "Indian princess."
+12 votes
According to my mother her grandfather was an orphan or in some sort of similar state and she maintained that as of two years ago when I first started looking into his potential genealogy on Ancestry.  

- His mother had died when he was about 1 year old in 1886 which probably is the root of the legend.
- Turns out he has a very prominent lineage in Essex County, Massachusetts including founders of towns (Roger Conant, Salem) and farming magnates (Samuel Appleton, Ipsiwch) and the Salem hysteria (John Dane III, juror).
- I found he give his oldest daughter the middle name Carrie, which was his sister's name and his mother's nickname.
- My mother and grandmother had gone in the 1940s or 1950s to visit with the son and grandson of his sister.  

- To put nearly put a rest to the legend, I found he was living, at 15, with his father and two sisters for the 1900 census. I had never come across a situation where access to the lost 1890 census would be helpful, but this would be it.  If I could find him living with his father at age 5 in 1890, then he clearly just had a crappy childhood and made up the orphan stuff to avoid it.
by Bret Cantwell G2G6 Mach 1 (12.1k points)
+11 votes


In the Hess family, Walter Blakely Hess is the family legend. He was born in New York, and arrived in Momence, Illinois in 1839, being the 9th settler in a town that was settled in 1834.

Walter is one of 11 children, and he fathered 12 children. He had five different wives, outliving all but the last one.

Walter started out with 40 acres, and when he died he owned 570 acres of fine farming land. He was the head of the law, and afraid of nothing. Tales of his difficulties with the Bogus Island horse thieves and counterfeiters are as interesting and exciting as adventure thrillers.

Walter lived to be 85 years old. But the memory of his life continues on today. He was so active in the community, his interests were so varied, and his character so fine that he lives on even today in Momence.

Although Walter died in 1904, over 114 years ago, there are not many people that live in Momence today that are not related to him in one way or another.

They may be direct descendants, or married to a direct descendant, but we were interested to see just how many people were related to him that we started a family tree just to see.

We were not surprised with the results. We were able to link just about every name in Momence back to Walter. That would be except for people that have recently arrived in our little river town.

Even people in the neighboring towns had some sort of link to Walter Hess.

This is the main reason that I have chosen Walter Hess as the legend in our family for Week 33.

Thank you for reading my story.

by Cheryl Hess G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)
+9 votes

While most of my ancestors seem to hale from Virginia to Florida over to Louisiana, I came across a line from the North that surprised me.  It appears my 8th great grandfather was Deacon Samuel Chapin who helped settle the city of Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1600's.  According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Puritan_(Springfield,_Massachusetts)),In 1881, Chester W. Chapin, a railroad tycoon and congressman from Springfield, Massachusetts, commissioned[2] the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a bronze likeness of his ancestor, Deacon Samuel Chapin (1595–1675), one of the early settlers of the City of Springfield."  The sculpture is called The Puritan and is awesome.


by Carolyn Martin G2G6 Pilot (287k points)
+8 votes
Many years ago my mother, her two sisters and I were sitting around talking about ancestors in our Lipscomb line.  One on them said that great aunt someone had married a Japanese count and they had had 1 child. But the marriage was not a success and she returned to her family with the child.  Her husband came and kidnapped the child and they were never seen again.  But I can't use that legend.  No supporting evidence.  My mother and aunts have all died so I can't get more information from them.  I don't remember which relative the were talking about.  Just this vague memory of a conversation.  I wonder where a woman from Maury County Tennessee would meet a Japanese count or whatever the title actually is. This would have been around 1900 or earlier.  And would a member of the Japanese aristocracy of that time marry into an ordinary family from Tennessee?  I tend to think the story isn't true.  But then again I've found out a lot of things about my family that I wouldn't have thought were true.
by A Nony Mouse Moffett G2G6 Mach 2 (20.6k points)
+8 votes

There don't seem to be many legends, but there are quite a few stories.

The story was that my great grandparents Robert Toepelt and his wife Emma (??) came from Germany to get married because she was royalty and he was poor. I have not found any proof of royalty, or even her surname, but they did arrive from Germany around 1853 and seemed to have been poor.

The Scranton family is supposed to be related to the Scrantons who settled Scranton Pennysylvania. This appears to be valid based on the link back to John Scranton.

My favorite is the story that GrandDad Scranton got mad and kicked the barn and broke his foot. After meeting with 3 of my cousins a couple of weeks ago, all had heard this story. We all wondered why he was so mad.

by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (608k points)
+9 votes

Ann Copland (1846 - 1875)

She is my Great Great Grandmother.  Her death is the subject of 2 similar yet very different stories about her death.  
The Canadian and US version:  Ann Copeland (Copland) died after being kicked in the head while milking a cow.  
Australian version:  I heard from a descendant of son Alexander who said their story is that Ann died saving Alexander from a charging bull.  
Both are bovine incidents but the Australian story is lot more exciting that our version!

by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (841k points)
+7 votes
My great Aunt Wendy Wood ( Gwendoline Emily (Meacham) Wood (1892 - 1981) https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meacham-885 ) was a legendary Scots Nationalist ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Wood_(artist) ).

In numerous books and articles she claimed to have a Scottish grandmother (her mother's mother) or great grandmother.  But nobody else in the family claimed to have any Scottish blood, and none of us can find any.

The closest was her great aunt, Alethea (Meacham) Ross, (not yet on Wikitree) who married a Scottish tea merchant (at the advanced age of 50 or so).
by Janet Gunn G2G6 Pilot (162k points)
+8 votes
My family story and false legend is close to home. When I was growing up, my grandmother Estelle (MacDonald) Flamer (MacDonald-8005), a colorful character in her own right, told us grandchildren that her father had been killed by Irishmen because he crossed a picket line in Pittsburg.

When Gram and I went to visit her older sister in 1988, we got to talking about that story and her sister started laughing. She said the only reason that Gram had been told that story was that she was such a blabbermouth as a child that they didn't want her to know the true story. So for all those years in school I had worn an orange hat on St Patrick's day for no reason. What actually happened was that her father was a drunk and he was supposed to be watching the furnace at a hospital in town. Anyway, the furnace caught fire and caused a major fire in the hospital, killing him. He was buried next door at the McKeesport Cemetery. No one in the family felt much sympathy, as I gather.

The other false story was one her husband told. He had been born in Norway and he claimed we were "descended from kings.... after all there were so many kings in Norway." Also false. They were all farmers that I've found back to 1600.

My mother's side of the family didn't even have any stories. They were just all farmers and preachers back to about 1634 as far as I can tell. Oh, one deserted his wife for a younger women, got a divorce, and then married the other woman. Oops, there were two of those.
by Judy Bramlage G2G6 Pilot (217k points)
edited by Judy Bramlage
+6 votes
Many of our family expressed an extreme interest and love of Irish Rebels, this was passed on throughout the years.  My family legend is my maternal 3rd great grandfather Stephen Cassidy. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Cassidy-447

Read more about Stephens possible associations with the ''Ribbonmen'' on my blog.  Could he have been '''Captain Rock'?''   You can access my blog here - https://genemonkey25.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/my-3rd-great-grandfather-stephen-cassidy-52-ancestors-2/
by Veronica Williams G2G6 Pilot (217k points)
+6 votes

The legend so many Southern families have - that they're descended from Pocahontas. Another family legend that has been handed down is likely true. Following is the condensed version that I posted on my great-great-grandfather's profile:

Armajor K. Hall served as a private in the CSA and appears on Federal Rolls as a prisoner of War twice - captured and paroled at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863; in camp of exchange, March 29, 1864, as prisoner of War and paroled at Monroe, Louisiana, June 9, 1865.

A family story of his homecoming (not sure whether 1863 or 1865) is that his wife Louisa knew he was coming home before she could see a traveller by the way the dogs were barking (he was walking home from either Vicksburg or Monroe).

by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (641k points)

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