Reblogging this post from the New England Historical and Genealogical Sociey's Penny Stratton:
“Write down what you know” is the first step in family history research. For many of us, what we know includes family stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. But sometimes those stories can be misleading – or just plain incorrect. For example, my stepmother had always heard that she was related to Ralph Waldo Emerson and General William Tecumseh Sherman. I have a set of notes written by her aunt, Minerva McGee (1897-1972), which begin like this:
General Sherman — younger brother of Catherine Sherman
Ralph Waldo Emerson — younger brother of John Emerson
John Emerson — Catherine Sherman, My Great Grandparents.
Unfortunately, Aunt Minerva was wrong.
As wonderful as these stories have been, their failure to hold up under standard methods of genealogical scrutiny makes me question other family lore I encounter. Yes, it’s wise to start with what you know, but perhaps we should reword that advice: start with what you know and can prove.