How Far Will You Go To Dig Into Your Family History?

Boston 1775 offers “Washington’s Hanukkah: An Oral Tradition”, researching the historical evidence of General George Washington learning about Jewish traditions.

In his recent picture book Hanukkah at Valley Forge, Stephen Krensky gives a main source for his story of Gen. George Washington learning about that Jewish festival, and that book in turn cites as its main source a rabbi’s sermon from 1955. Then, as I discussed yesterday, the trail goes cold.

But Rabbi David Hollander isn’t the only person who’s talked or written about Washington meeting a Jewish soldier at Valley Forge. The web has captured several other examples-so many, in fact, that it’s possible to triangulate among those versions to find the details they share, which hint at a common source. I think that internal evidence points to an oral tradition that started sometime in the mid-20th century and then spread among rabbis and Jewish writers, details changing along the way.

As J.L. Bell explains, tracking down this kind of information into hard cold facts is very difficult. If it were a current day event, then there would be living witnesses, but researching a past event means digging into written accounts from the time period, as well as photographs and records.

This is a great example of the depth researchers of history go to find out the truth behind the legends. And teaches us more about how we need to be more thorough when researching our own family stories and history.

Bell covers more of this in Seeing Fiction as Fact.

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Most Recent Articles by Lorelle VanFossen


About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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4 Responses to How Far Will You Go To Dig Into Your Family History?

  1. Sue Melin says:

    Can anyone tell me why it is so difficult to get relatives to open up about my family’s history? The exuses abound, and are absurd.
    Is this typical?

  2. @Sue Melin:

    Yes. Very. They have many reasons, all justifiable by them and their sense. They vary all over the place from “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” to privacy to “best forgotten” and everywhere in between.

    It helps first if you do the research on paper as much as possible so you get a sense of who the people are. Then family steps in and says “Well, that’s fine but you don’t know the truth of things” and then you get their version of the truth – bingo – information. People love being right, but they don’t like being challenged.

  3. Steve Harold says:

    I keep meaning to get around to investigating my family background and from what I have seen it seems to becoming easier as more records are made available online. I guess it can be a bit bit like tackling a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t have all the bits but you can make some logical assumptions from what you do have.

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