How to handle family rumours in your family history

Many families have rumours that have been passed down the family.  In my own family, there is a rumour that my Dickins ancestors were linked to the people who founded Dickins and Jones, and that there is property in London which was held in Chancery due to a dispute that was never resolved.  I haven’t yet been able to confirm that this is true. There’s also my grandmother’s belief that her husband’s Hughes family were related to the family of Hugh Price Hughes, the methodist thinker and preacher. I have researched both families and can’t find this is true – yet!

I’ve come across many family rumours when doing family history for other people.  Rumours that an ancestor was actually the illegitimate son of a king, that ancestors of a particular name (like Dickins) are related to a famous person with the same surname, rumours of lands lost and money gambled away.

My policy when it comes to family rumours is to record what I am told and by whom, and then to research the subject and wait to get confirmation.  In my own family tree, my great aunt Marie told me that one of her father’s sisters was a doctor and worked for the Rothschilds.  She was wrong, the aunt was a nurse and not a doctor, but she was right that she did work for the Rothschild family.  So I found that rumour was partially true.

Of course, there are going to be rumours which will never be confirmed, and I think that those should be recorded as something someone told you, and it will depend on the nature of the rumour how you should include it.

My father was evacuated when he was a child.  He was sent to many different places, and ended up on a wonderful estate owned by the millionaire Woolf Barnato.  My father believed that Woolf Barnato wanted to adopt him, but was prevented by the Catholic church, because he was Jewish.  I have tried my best to establish if this is a fact or not, but there is no mention of it in his in-care file (as far as I know, it was censored) and so I have not been able to verify that it was true.  I have verified that he was indeed evacuated to Woolf Barnato’s home.  In my family history it will say that he believed this to be the case, but I won’t assert that it is the case.

So the short answer to the question at the top is: record them, record who said them (and if possible, who told them!) and then check out the facts as you would for any other unconfirmed piece of information. But if you’ll take my advice, interview your elderly relatives now, and not later.  Memories tend to fade with time, and you’ll be glad that you did!


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