Monday, January 28, 2019

Family Myths and Legends: They're Not All Cherokee Princesses

I write two genealogy cum family history blogs, this one and a second one that is dedicated to dispelling mythical Native American ancestry. But not all myths involve Indian Princesses. It seems almost every family has some tall tale attached with a fabulously rich ancestor, a runaway, a link to nobility or other grand family. 

Here is one I found attached to my ancestor James Thornton, a Scots-Irish immigrant from the north of Ireland. James arrived in Boston with his family in 1718.  According to many trees on ancestry and geni.com he had a daughter named Catherine Thornton who married David Tate in Boutetorte County, Virginia. Catherine's date of birth is unknown, but she had a son in about 1758, so she was likely born in the 1730s, long after the Thorntons had left Ireland. James and his family settled in Massachusetts far from Virginia, but no one questions how did this woman got to Virginia on her own. Other family trees include a second daughter, Elizabeth, who like Catherine married and lived in Virginia. 

I found a tree on familysearch for David Tate and his wife Catherine. Catherine's parents are said to not James, but his son William Thornton and his wife Dorcas Little Thornton.  This is also the case on a genealogy.com forum. Dorcas was born in 1725. She met and married William in Massachusetts. When Catherine was born about 1735, Dorcas was only about 9 or 10 years old living with her parents near Worcester, Massachusetts, she is not Catherine's mother. Five minutes of research would prove how wrong this is.

I found an old article online on the Tate family history. It was written and published in 1936 in the Chattanooga Times in Tennessee. The article states that the woman David Tate married was "an Irish girl named Catherine Thornton, her family belonged to the nobility of Ireland. She ran away from home and came to America, as did many others at the same time, impelled by a spirit of adventure and settled in Virginia."

The runaway / noble family story is usually attached to a male ancestor, I'd not seen a runaway female prior to this but there you go. There are trees, today, on ancestry and other genealogy sites that include this myth in their family tree, without question. This part of the story reminds me of William Smith Bryan who I wrote about in an earlier blog post. He is also said to be a 'prince of Ireland.' His legend has evolved over the years and in his current state he is said to have been deported by Oliver Cromwell and sent to Virginia. Both these stories can be put to bed with on a short amount of research.

One of the most intricate myths I've ever encountered is the story of Thomas Pasmere Carpenter. This one seems to be not so much an old family story as a intentionally created myth. This fabrication was the subject of a masters degree thesis by Susan Reynolds. You can read it here. Thomas was also a runaway. He abandoned a wealthy shipping family from Devon to live in a cave among the Powhatan Indians and of course marries his Indian Princess.

Other myths in my trees include the three brothers myths. You know the one, three brothers left xyz and sailed to America. Then there is the ancestor who escaped a British Man-O-War in a barrel, I rather like that one.  One of my favorites is the son of an Earl who became a miller and immigrated to Boston in 1630 with the Winthrop Fleet. 

I never understand people who don't research their ancestors and try to get the real story. I guess I am a 'Doubting Thomas' by nature and I like my ancestors plain and simple. It's the finding that I enjoy; tracking them down and proving the exist. But hey, if I end up being related to a bit of royalty, I'm down with that.

Do you have any good ancestor myths? Post them in the comments and we can compare stories.

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