Fact or fiction? Genealogists often uncover family myths

Family historians hear a lot of myths when they start their genealogy journey. There’s this one: “Our surname was changed at Ellis Island,” or a similar immigration port.

Names may have been changed, by a clerk who didn’t not understanding an immigrant because of a language barrier, or for other reasons. But it was not a policy to change people’s names.

Name Myth no. 2: “Our surname has always been spelled the same way.” If you have a male family member take a Y-DNA test, you will possibly see all the different spelling variations in the direct male line, going back centuries, reflected in other descendants. Some names were shortened from Mathewson to Mathews, Atkinson to Atkins, some translated from Barrier to Gates, and so forth. When researching a surname, you need to be open minded. Often, you really don’t know enough about your ancestral heritage to say the name has never been adjusted.

A third possible myth is “a town in the old country is named for our family.” That may or may not be the case. But, until you prove your direct lineage back to said village, you really don’t know that.

Dick Eastman explored slightly different versions of these myths and more in his free online newsletter.

“The Lost Family”

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia will hold an online chat with Libby Copeland to discuss her book, “The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are,” on June 28 at 2 p.m. The program is free, but preregistration is required. You can read more about the program and register a jewishgen.org/jgsg/. The book was recently published by Abrams Press and is available at many places.

Genealogy software

Family Tree Magazine’s July/August issue lists the top five Genealogy Software Programs: Ancestral Quest (ancquest.com), Family Tree Builder (myheritage.com/family-tree-builder), Family Tree Maker (mackiev.com/ftm), Heredis (heredis.com/en) and RootsMagic (rootsmagic.com). Only two of these, Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic, are well-known. Check them out if you are not using one already, but its always best to go with an established company.

Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., P. O. Box 901, Decatur, GA 30031 or kenthomasongenealogy.com.