Don't Always Believe What You Hear / Read In The Family Bible

by Lori Joyce
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

I have a family lore, as I'm sure a lot of you do, too. Don't always take what Great Aunt LaLa told you as fact. Often, rumours stuck better than fact and you're getting some version of old gossip.

For example, I was told that one of my great aunts founded the Girl Scouts. While it's true someone with the same name was instrumental in that organization, it's not our relative.

Next example, I was told one of my distant male relatives, who was a ship's captain, married a Polynesian woman while on his travels, hence why one of my distant aunts looked "Indian". Turns out he actually had an affair with a local native woman, she had a child and for whatever reason, he had his wife raise her as their own.

I've also been told that my great great grandfather and his two siblings came to Canada after being disowned by their parents for switching religion (from Anglican to Born-Again Christians). So far, I've not been able to find much information on the previous generation, or any proof that their moving was anythingn other than a migration to Canada, along with thousands of other people.

Family Bibles are a great way to trace history, you know the front pages where you list your parents and grandparents... But who filled those out and when? I was very happy to find out the names of my great great grandparents, only to never be able to find them on any census. Turns out the wife's name is incorrect and/or somewhat wrong (hard to tell as her husband's name is John, so there are a lot of women named Mary married to a John Joyce.

Remember when you're getting information to keep an open mind. Don't be afraid to look outside the 'standard issue family' info box. And remember, graveyards are your friend!! Read a gravestone, find a relative.

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Re: Great-Grandma and her birth date
by: Anonymous

I'm not so sure you can blame great-grandma for that one. First of all, census documents are notorious for listing the wrong age (see my page at, which has a section about women and the ages given in the census!)

Secondly, she may not have known the full story. I recently provided someone with my research regarding her family, and she, a woman in her 70s, was shocked to discover that her parents were married a year later than they had always told the children. The parents told them this to hide that their mother was expecting their first-born when the parents married. She later told me that her sister, in her 80s, also was unaware of that situation.

In those days, a woman being "in the family way" before marriage was frowned up, and people would do many things to try to hide that this had happened. So your great-grandmother, like the lady mentioned above, may not actually have known the truth!

Even Great Grandmas Lie
by: Anonymous

I am coming to believe that in her family Bible, my great grandmother deliberately gave her birth year one year younger so that her parents were married before her birth rather than after her birth. I base this on all the census date following her supposed "birth date."

Great Comments!
by: Sue

Lori, thanks for the comments - some great tips in there!

I know that my great-grandparents' family Bible was partly filled out by my great-aunt, who wasn't so strong on the details, and some of the dates are a little off.

Cemeteries can also be great sources of information, as you pointed out - but even that can be incorrect. My step-grandmother did my grandfather's headstone, and my mother later pointed out that the birth year was wrong on it - and she's right, according to my research! It just goes to prove, once again, that everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt!

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