Even if your ancestor arrived in the 1600’s, interviewing relatives for clues is valuable. You probably are not the first one in your family to wonder where your ancestors came from.  Often there is a story that has been handed down through the generations about how the family came to America.  Keep in mind that the further removed the interviewee is from the time the event occurred; the more likely you are to encounter errors and elaborations of the family lore. So if Aunt Matilda tells you about ancestors who arrived in 1753, she doesn’t have personal knowledge about this event, and she’s just repeating what someone told her, someone who wasn’t there either.  Almost all family stories have some grain of truth; however, Family legends are not usually created out of thin air, and that tiny grain may be the clue that leads you to genealogical success.  There are many “myths” that have worked their way into family stories, and perhaps you’ve already heard some of these. If not, before you begin interviewing relatives, make yourself aware of some of the most common myths, since you may hear variations of one of them during the interview.

 (Milton Rubincam’s Pitfalls in Genealogical Research goes into more detail on the various stumbling blocks researchers may encounter.)

The Cherokee Indian Princess Myth

 It’s always a Cherokee princess, almost never Navajo or Apache or Pueblo or Lumbee.  

This is an extremely common myth.  If there is any story of American Indian ancestry,

 it always seems to be an Indian princess.  The Cherokee, of course, are a large tribe

with a diverse culture, divided by the Trail of Tears. They intermarried widely, perhaps

increasing the likelihood of Cherokee/white ancestry. One reason this princess myth may

 have evolved is prejudice. For those who frowned upon a white male ancestor marrying

an Indian woman, elevating the woman’s status to princess made the truth easier to


Keep in mind that nay story that says you have American Indian ancestry-often Cherokee-may in itself be a myth.  My husband’s family claims to have some American Indian ancestry. I've researched at least four or five generations on all his lines, and I have yet to find one drop of American Indian blood,. Even thought it's currently am "in" thing to have American Indian ancestry, just a few decades ago, it might have been the skeleton in your family's closet. As you will see in the next chapter, proving certain ethnic ancestry can be difficult because of prejudice or popularity toward a culture at any given time.   Throughout history, some people who were victims of prejudice may have tried to hide their native origins by changing their names or claiming a different ethnicity


The tradition persists in all of the branches of the descendants of John Sturgeon I, that there was an Indian ancestor, usually of the Cherokee tribe.  More than a few members of the family tell of seeing a picture of Richard (son of "John and Hannah Flatt Sturgeon or who?) in long black braids and they tell me “He was Indian your know.”

So far this is just a tradition, however we do not know who John Sturgeon I married.  She very well could have been Indian, but if he married her in Pennsylvania, it is doubtful if she would have been Cherokee. However, if he left Pennsylvania about 1775 and came into Kentucky by Daniel Boone’s route, from North Carolina, the chances are good that he would have lived among the Cherokees in North Carolina.  This would account for the traditions in the lines of both James and Jeremiah.

Also, we do not know the wife of Jeremy, son of John I.   Maybe she was Indian. The description of Elijah, his son, was given as “dark hair, eyes and complexion.”

It doesn’t seem likely that the Webster or Brumback lines are connected with Indian ancestry, however the possibility still exists there.

All that can be said now about the Sturgeon families’ Indian ancestry is that nothing has yet been found to prove this tradition.  We will just keep on looking.

  (Author unknown)

 (This note from researcher Peg Anderton)

I made John I (who lived 110 years) the one who might have married the Indian.  Too much family legend on my side as well as others who claim Indian blood.  Who else but a pioneer settler would live with/or marry a squaw?  He undoubtedly was married in PA.  but maybe she refused to come with him or died.  Did you ever watch the Movie Centennial?”


The THREE Brothers Myth

It's always three brothers who immigrated to America, never two or four or five or six.  Sometimes one is lost at sea during the voyage over, or once they got to America, one went north, one went south, and one headed west, never to be heard from again.  There are never any sisters involved in the big move across the ocean.  Be wary of the brothers myth, and always keep an eye out for additional siblings, both in America and once you start foreign research.  You also want to confirm through your research that there were, in fact, three brothers, that the three brothers were indeed brothers and not two brothers and an uncle, for example, or that the three brothers weren't just three men with the same last name.

Our Sturgeon Story

There is a family tradition that we had some Sturgeons that were in the siege of Londonderry.  Two brothers were there.  One died and the other survived and moved his family to America.  His name was Samuel Sturgeon and here is the story of our family

The Stowaway Myth

For some reason, it is so much more romantic to have an ancestor who came to America as a stowaway on a ship rather than a paying passenger. While there are cases of people who actually did sneak aboard ships, this was not a common practice.  If the stowaway was discovered en-route, he  will be recorded on the last page of the passenger arrival list. I deliberately use "he" because you almost never hear a story about great-grandma being a stowaway.  Even if you have the family story of a stowaway, still check for a passenger arrival list.

The Claim-to-Fame Myth

Everyone who has the surname Bradford or Alden is related to William Bradford and John Alden of Mayflower fame, right? And everyone with the last name of Boone is related to Daniel.  If you do have American Indian ancestry, then you must be descended from Pocahontas.  Is that a red flag I see Flying? We all want a famous person to hang on our family tree, but we may not find that person.  My interest in genealogy spawned from the family story that we are related to Robert E Lee. We are. But he's a very distant relation; something like a fortieth cousin, twenty-five times removed. Again, the claim to fame is more likely a myth than a reality.

The Nobility and Coat of Arms Myth

A cousin to the claim-to-fame myth is having royal or noble ancestors who were entitled to display a coat of arms.  A good percentage of the people who left their native land for America were not entitled to inherit anything-land, a title, or armory.  That's why they left in the first place.  Why should a duke or prince give up his due inheritance and leave his homeland for the uncharted frontier of America? Although not a hard-and-fast rule for every foreign county, generally it's the second, third, fourth, and so on son who decided to emigrate because his older brother, the eldest son, would inherit their father's property (a custom known as primogeniture). While it is true that many American can trace their ancestry to kings and queens, sometimes they are tracing their ancestry to the illegitimate children of the kings and queens  Of course, that in itself holds a special status as well.  Royal ancestry is certainly possible, but don't automatically trust the family tradition.  Check it our for yourself through research. As far as coats of arms go, keep in mind that heraldic achievements are granted to a person, not to a family, and the arms are typically passed from the eldest son to his eldest son and so forth.  Younger sons and even daughters may use the main design, but these arms are generally altered to denote a son or daughter and birth order.  But what about that beautifully illustrated coat of arms that Uncle Harold has displayed with pride as the Schwartzfedder "family crest"? It may have nothing to do with your ancestors


This Coat of Arms was granted on December 1, 1463 to John Sturgeon

 (1430-92); of Gatesbury, Herts. King's servant from 1459; Master of Ordnance 1477-82; Sq. of the Body 1482-5; lawyer. He was the son of John Sturgeon (1405-55), mercer of London and of Hitchen. History of Parliament Biographies of The Members of the Commons House, 1439-1509 by Colonel The right Honourable Josiah C. Wedgwood, D.S.O., M.P. in collaboration with Anne D. Holt, M.A

The Wrong Ethnic Identity Myth

All Germans are Hessians who fought in the American Revolution.  All French are Huguenots. All Hispanics are Mexican. Of course, none of these broad statements is true. We  tend to lump certain groups of people incorrectly into one category. "German" is not a distinct enough of identifier in genealogy.  If family stories indicate that your ancestors were German or from Germany, were they Germans from Imperial German, Alsatians, Austrians, Swiss, Luxembourg's, Germans from Russia, or Poles from Germany? Even the records you uncover may not tell you more than "Germany." This is why it so so important to learn the unique cultural traits-customs, traditions, folkways-about the ethnic group. Learning these can point your research in the right direction.

Names, too, may be inaccurate indicators of ethnic identity.  Just because the name sounds Italian, is it? The name you are accustomed to may have been changed or inadvertently corrupted over time, obscuring its ethnic origins. The name "Toliver," so common in colonial Virginia, was actually Taliaferro, an Italian name too difficult for most English Virginians to pronounce. Descendants need to check records for both spellings, and they may be surprised to learn they have Italian origins, not English.

The Ellis Island Baptism Myth

This is the myth that an immigrant ancestor's surname was changed by officials during processing al Ellis Island. No evidence whatsoever exists to suggest this ever occurred, and I have challenged countless people who insist their ancestor's name was changed on Ellis Island to provide me with proof.  SO far, no one has been able to do so.  Even the historians at Ellis Island will tell you this is just a colorful family story.  During its operation as an immigrant receiving station (1892-1954), Ellis Island was staffed with hundreds of interpreters who spoke more than thirty different languages. Inspectors compared the names the immigrants told them against what was recorded on the passenger lists. These lists were created at the ports of departure. There was no reason to change anyone's surname once they arrived on the island.  More likely, immigrants themselves changed their names after they settled in America to avoid prejudice and to blend more easily into American society.  Another typical time for forenames, and sometimes surnames, to be changed was when immigrant children entered school and American teachers could not pronounce the foreign names.  So they called Francesco "Frank," and Adamczyk became "Adams."