How many generations of family stories are in your family/most families?

Kunta Kinte would have been Alex Haley’s g.g.g.g.grandfather, and while his family didn’t keep much alive in tales other than his surname (Kunta was added by Alex) and a couple of African words he spoke and that he lived in 'nnap’lis, that seems absolutely amazing amount for most American families. I’m curious as to in what generation most ancestors pass from oral history altogether.

I know most of the major details and anecdotes of my parents’ lives and through them and other relatives I know more than the essentials of my grandparents’ lives. Since my great-grandmother (who lived 1863-1963) raised my father and I knew her daughters (who lived into their 90s) I know a good bit of her life and a very little bit about her father (a Confederate private), and I know a good bit about the life of my maternal grandfather’s father as he was a locally famous character, and of my maternal grandmother’s father (a town doctor and evil bastard- committed some of his own children to insane asylums as a disciplinary measure). Other than the Confederate private, I only know stories of one set of great-great-grandparents, that because a photo taken on their 60th wedding anniversary (when she was 74, he was 93- their wedding had been a scandal in 1848) and his journal which I have inspired me to ask questions about them when their granddaughter, my grandmother, was still alive. For the rest of my great-great-grandparents (the generation of Civil War adults, born between 1809 and 1845), for most I only know their names through my own research (though I learned an anecdote of an ancestor’s adventures as a deserter from a distant cousin lately, and a story about my g.g.grandmother and a Yankee horsethief which is probably false). About g-g-g-grandparents (the generation in my family that came to Alabama in the 1810s-1830s) there are no tales at all, so the oldest tale in my family can be dated to 1848 and from there it’s very piece-meal til my parents’ lives.

It’s amazing to me how people can live 80-90 years and survive the Civil War and yet be forgotten altogether or all but pure trivia* in just 2 or 3 generations. I’m curious how many generations the family stories survive in other families- if mine is about average or less than or more than. (I’m currently compiling all of the tales that I know so they won’t be totally lost.)

How many generations of stories are there in your family?
*Example: one of my g-g-grandmothers, Amanda, married a man who was almost 50 years her senior in the 1850s, had several children with him, then remarried about 6 months after he died during the height of the Civil War and bore a child [my great-grandfather] to her new husband only 16 months after her first husband’s death, this during the height of the Civil War while she was managing her first husband’s plantation- this woman’s life sounds interesting, and the only thing passed down from her is from her grandson, my grandfather, who was an adult (and a WW1 veteran) by the time she died, and what he passed down is “she still had dark hair as an old woman”.

Moved to IMHO.

Gfactor, General Questions Moderator

Oral tradition in my family goes back along one line to my 3 x great grandfather, who fought in the Civil war. But it merely reports the fact that he was a soldier, and he made toy blocks out of wood for his youngest son (whom I knew as “Uncle George”, when we visited him when I was a kid).

The soldier’s wife, my 3 x g grandma, had more colorful stories about her, like trying to keep the family together after her hub died, and the family pig was repossessed to pay off outstanding debt.

My family is well documented even on the web because my great X-grandparents arrived at Jamestown about 1610. However, I don’t think that counts but it ties into what I am about to say. I have lots of sources of genealogy that cross-check but much of my casual research was easy because I always knew the history from my xx-great grandfather just from casual family stories. We even had pictures of my xx-great-grandfather’s 22nd Mississippi Civil War regiment in our living room. I guess I also knew how his father got murdered by one of his slaves just as a casual oral story so that took me back to the 1850’s or so. Not all family lines are so documented but I have always encouraged older relatives to tell stories so I know most family lines at least back to the late 1800’s just from stories.

Not very much at all. As a family, they immigrated fairly recently and apparently it was so traumatic that none of them would talk about anything that ever happened to them or their other families members prior to arriving in this country. I once thought it would be helpful to push my great-grandmother on this point, thinking that if she saw that I was genuinely interested, she’d be more forthcoming … and I made her cry. That was great, making a 90 year old lady cry.

The only exception is one ggg-grandfather who was a Colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. In a series of wacky adventures, he was brought up on charges of being AWOL (I don’t know if that was the term back then, but you know, absent), and put into prison. The war was nearly over when evidence turned up to show he was innocent, and he was released and reinstated with full benefits and all that.

Oh, and I should also add that my mother’s family lies a lot. So even with oral history stories about my grandparents, I have heard multiple, wildly different, versions of events. I have been told that my grandfather died: by drowning; in a railyard accident (he did actually work in a railyard, so that’s plausible); and after a routine medical procedure gone wrong.

Ditto. It wasn’t until I was reading my grandmother’s obituary that I learned that I had never know her first name (she had gone by her middle name exclusively), and it was only today while reading my aunt’s obituary that I learned that my sister was named for her.

My Husband’s family has a published geneology recording everyone from 1720 to 1964. It was written by his great-grand aunt, (waay before the internet!)
In fact, he’s trying to see if he can get another copy of it. His dad has one, but he’s not willing to part with it. It’s already promised to the oldest brother.
We got the Library of Congress #, but I’m not sure where to go from here.

I have a family bible that lists births and deaths from 1780 something from my grandmother’s family.

The living stories of my family date to the Civil War, which involve g-g-g grandparents. Hmmmm. I’ve never told my son about the wounded soldier they hid in the rafters. Guess I’d better!

I exclude published accounts from my family’s ‘oral genealogy’ because a lot of the published accounts were discovered by me, in uncovering my connections to these folks described in the publications.

It did sadden me to see how sparse most of our oral tradition had become in most lines of the family. My interest in family history did get me talking with many aged relatives, and learning most of those old accounts at that time.

The one “oral history” handed down proudly via my mom’s mom’s line from the Revolutionary war turned out to be completely wrong. They claimed descent from Betsey Ross, of Flagmaking fame/legend. It turns out our Ross ancestor was indeed active in the Revolutionary war, as a soldier at Bunker Hill itself. But he was in no way related to Betsey in any meaningful connection.

I was 7 years old when my great-grandfather took me to his old homeplace. He told me that HIS grandfather owed all of the visible land at that place, but that he “ran off with another woman and we never saw him again.”

When I got older, I did research, and my 3x great grandfather JHGain has a marriage and property records up until 1880 and he disappears. No death or census records are found after that…??? :slight_smile:

Very little, infortunately. I heard a lot about my grandparents, on my mother’s side, but my father didn’t like his family much.

There’s a general rule in oral tradition that family stories only last two degrees of separation, unless the person is of interest for reasons beyond the family. In other words, you generally only hear about people you have met, or people that they have met. For practical purposes, this usually limits family oral tradition to five generations. People rarely get to know great-grandparents well enough to have adult-to-adult/older child conversations before they grow senile or die, so what’s left is your grandparents’ memories of their grandparents. Or an elderly aunt’s memory of her great-grandmother, or what have you.

There are a lot of exceptions to this, of course. One is if an ancestor was famous, or involved in a famous historical event, or associated with a valuable object. This gives people an incentive to take an interest and pass on the stories. Another is a family that breeds young, allowing more generations in the same span of time, or one that stays in one place, or one with wide gaps in the generations.

My own family fits this pattern perfectly. The oldest reliable oral tradition concerns events of the late 1870s, with the odd “he-was-in-the-civil-war” to take it back to the 1860s.

On the other hand, I know quite a lot of people who don’t know their own grandparents’ names, just because they never bothered to ask!

The oldest family story on my mother’s side I know of is about a female ancestor, who came to Wisconsin from the Alleghenny Mountains in the 1860/70s. She was German, but married a Welsh guy, who decided Wisconsin was a land of opportunity. So he hauled them over the Alleghenny Mountains to southwest Wisconsin, where they proceeded to multiply – they had something like fourteen kids, who all survived to adulthood. She was so beloved by her family (or terrified them, opinions differ) that all the children were buried at her feet.

On my father’s side, I know that the first, uh, let’s just go ahead and say McKnittingtons came to Wisconsin in the 1840s. There were two brothers, who claimed the land my family now farms. At some point in the mid-19th century, they had a falling out, so one brother and family high-tailed it five miles away and set up a new farm. This means there are people in ten mile radius who have my name and whom I’m technically related to, but I’ve never spoken to, because of a family grudge pre-dating Nebraska’s inclusion into the Union.

Ditto. My grandparents did not talk about the Old Country and made it clear they did not want to talk about the Old Country. The few times I tried to ask my father about it, he said “If we had liked it there, we would have stayed.”

We do know that my grandfather changed his name when he arrived in America, so our family tradition consists of trying to figure out what deep, dark scandal caused him to leave. That’s considerably more entertaining than the probable truth.

The stories of my great grandparents are mostly gone. Only a small amount remain. I’ve now lost all my grandparents and it saddens me to think that the knowledge of their lives will only decrease from here on out. Just last year I visited my grandmother and heard, for the first time, stories of her childhood growing up in Europe. And what’s weird is no one else knew those stories. They all had their own lives to live and never really asked. How sad.

I’ve got several stories of my 3rd great-grandfathers. They told their children who told their grand-daughter who told me.

The oldest story in my family, which I suppose people could reasonably argue is just a legend but seems true due to circumstantial evidence, dates from about 1820. This thread from a couple years ago has some of my stories and an amazing one by Osip.

It’s a mix, depending on what branch of the family. Relatives of mine were entering the United States at various points between the 17th century and the early 20th century. In some cases, researching the record is made hard due to sudden appearances in the record (in one case, a poorly documented adoption; in another, a family member who has no record before entering the US and who may have lied about his life in Wales), and, in any event, I am not as fully informed on all the stories as other members of the family.

In any event, the earliest stories I know well are from my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, and deal with relatives in the 1700s.

On my father’s side, I knew my great-grandmother (1891-1981); I was nine when she died, and I know her life story pretty well. Beyond her, I don’t know much except for two or three stories she told about her grandfather. Those stories have passed pretty firmly into Family Lore now.

I also know a few vague details about the patriarch who brought the family over here in 1642, but not enough to consider it real family knowledge.

On my mother’s side, my grandmother is still alive, and she’s a bit of a genealogist. Her grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) was a Confederate soldier who valiantly took part in the surrender at Pensacola. I know a few other stories she’s told me, but not a whole lot more.

So: Five generations on one side, four on the other.

I have an ancestor, one I share a surname and given name with, who’s the reverse and I’ve wondered about him. The official family version is that he was in the CSA cavalry, came home on a furlough, and his son (my great-grandfather) recalled all of his life seeing him off when he returned to his unit, following him up a hill, and waving to him as he rode away and after he was out of sight. It was the last time he ever saw his father as soon after rejoining his unit he died of disease during the siege of Vicksburg. A Who’s Who in Alabama type article from the 1910s for this man’s oldest son (not my g-grandfather) confirms that his father (my ancestor) died during the V’burg campaign and is interred at a Confederate cemetery in Quitman, Mississippi. (This is from a branch of the family that’s far more prone to minimizing than embellishing, so I considered it fairly reliable- and there’s no doubt whatever that this is the particular ancestor they’re talking about- my father’s-father’s-father’s-father.)

When I started researching the family genealogy some things didn’t check out. The first was that this ancestor (and I’m positive it’s the correct ancestor, not just same-name) was in the 47th Infantry (that’s infantry as opposed to cavalry). The 47th never went to Vicksburg- they went to Gettysburg (which was fought the same day V’burg surrendered).
My surname isn’t that terribly common or that terribly unusual (currently between 1,700 and 1,750th most common in America according to the census info on surnames), and I know that Census records were often incomplete, but there’s only one man by my ancestor’s name listed in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. There’s nobody by his name in 1870 and after in Alabama, to be expected if he died, but there IS in 1870 a man with the same first name, middle initial, and surname, the same age approximately (allow for a standard deviation of about 2 years on different censuses for age, and it’s within that) and listed as having been born in Alabama, though he was not listed on 1860 or 1850 censuses of Alabama or anywhere else I can find. He’s living in Arkansas with his wife and infant son in 1870, and the same man/wife are listed in Oklahoma in the 1880 Census, then in [of all unlikely places] Apache territory in 1900 (no idea what that’s about). Meanwhile, my ancestor’s wife by 1870 has remarried and had two new children (her second husband being much older and illiterate- that’s another oddity of their marriage is that my ancestor’s wife was about 10 years older and their first child was born when she was 28 and he was 18, and her father was moderately rich (land and a few slaves) and his was poor- another one of those “there’s a story there that’s long gone” stories).

I’ve wondered several times if this was a marriage that just broke up and my ancestor just didn’t come home after the war but started a new life for himself somewhere else. (It would have been very easy at the time- hardly any reason to change your name if you weren’t on the run for the law, and it doesn’t appear he was.) It would have been easy for his wife to mask the stigma of being abandoned with “he died in the war” (adding “of disease, no hero’s death” perhaps as a twist).

At some point I might drive to Quitman just to see as a matter of curiosity if he’s in that cemetery. However, it’s almost 200 miles from where I live and there’s a good chance that even if he’s buried there the grave isn’t marked (something like 1/4 to 1/3 of all Civil War dead were buried in unmarked bodies as there were no such things as dog-tags and decomposition set in quick).

All my life I heard of my proud Irish ancestress, Mary Robeson, who with her red hair and map of Ireland face proudly screamed at the Yankee who stole her unbroken stallion from her family horse and mule farm “I hope he breaks ye’re goddamned neck afore ye get to Selma”; a day later the horse came back to the farm, riderless. Her brogue was so thick that her son, my great-grandfather, according to both of his granddaughters (my mother and aunt who lived in the same house with him) remembered it. Genealogical research shows that if her family was Irish, it wasn’t potato famine Irish- her father was born in South Carolina around 1800 and her mother in Georgia around 1807. Pity- the fact she wasn’t Irish casts doubt on the horse story as well (though there’s definitely a Selma— and her family did live on a farm that would have been on the path of Wilson’s march to Selma, so… who knows.)

The stories that I heard of being a prisoner of war during the civil war and of riding with Jesse James were told to me second hand by my father. His father was the POW and his Uncle John (the black sheep of the family) was Jesse’s friend. There were two or three other uncles in the war and my father heard their battle stories first hand as a youngster – when he wasn’t hiding from them. (He was frightened.)

The written history goes back eleven generations on that side of the family and that was the 9th generation – the only one passed on to me orally.

On my mother’s maternal side, I have heard a little about the great aunt of my great grandmother. The great grandmother lived during the Civil War, so I would imagine that Aunt Samantha was born around the early part of the 1800’s.

On my grandfather’s paternal side, I know almost nothing orally, but the written history goes back twenty-two generations. We are a notorious lot and in the news almost every day. I think infamous is the word.

No family stories at all, I’m afraid.

My Mum did some genealogical research, which showed one of my ancestors worked in a pub and another lived in a single terraced house with 16 other people. :eek: