Saturday, March 27, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 7, Family Legends

We all have them.  You know, the story that ties your family in with some famous or infamous person.  Maybe your family story includes a royal line.  Maybe you are not related to a famous person but your grandfather just hung out with the person. Although family legends are not a "source" they are a clue, be it true or false, that needs to be researched.

But how do you go about researching that family story passed down several generations?  Here are some ideas to help you prove or disprove that tale.

    * If the person was an entertainer, they may have had a name change or have used several different names.  Some biographical information about them may have been embellished.

    * Family stories about celebrity relations might have snowballed over time and may not resemble the original story.

    * Research for famous relations most likely means research into collateral relatives.

    * Through the Freedom of Information Act, you can request information from the file of a deceased family member. The FBI's web site has instructions and forms for accessing that information at These FBI files can also be accessed through The FBI's web site includes an alphabetical listing of historical figures, famous people and criminals whose FBI file you can look at online. Celebrities including Gracie Allen, Desi Arnez, Gene Autry, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and the Beatles are part of this online database.

    * As you research, put together a timeline and consider what types of documents the person should be mentioned in.  Famous people should show up in newspapers in the locality where they work/live and throughout the U.S.  Depending on what they were famous for, their story may be told in a specialty museum, or in a historians’ history or biography.

    * Some family stories are common to many families.  For example, I have had numerous people tell me that their great-grandfather rode with Jesse James.  So how do you confirm such information?  Ask various family members and see where the story is consistent or falters a bit.  Try to get as much detail as possible because you will need to research the ancestor and Jesse James. Consider what parts of the story could be true or waht doesn't hold up to muster.  For example, was grandpa the right age to have been a contemporary of Jesse James? Was he living in the same places as Jesse James? Is there any proof of his doing other activities during this time period? 

    * The best part of being related to someone famous, or infamous, is that most likely historians/scholars have written books about them.  Seek these out.  Also look for scholarly articles written in journals.  Then check out those bibliographies and read those books too.

Need some websites to check out?  Try these-

Celebrity Family Trees Celebrity Trees
Presidential Family Trees
Celebrity Genealogy

Random web sites that include famous people listings

Find a Grave
Political Graveyard 
Genealogical Relationships of US Presidents

Libraries and Such

California Libraries Catalog
World Cat
Museums USA 
American Association of Museums

Books and articles

Finding your Famous and Infamous Ancestors by Rhonda McClure.  ISBN: 9781558706545
Researching your Famous and Infamous Ancestors by George Morgan

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