FC 78 Sustainable Genealogy with Richard Hite

This week on Fieldstone Common our featured guest is Richard Hite, author of the book Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends.

Bio – Richard HiteRichard Hite on Fieldstone Common

Richard Hite is State Records Coordinator of the Rhode Island State Archives and Public Records Administration. Previously he was Assistant State Archivist at the Ohio Historical Society and from 2003 until 2012 he served as President of the Hite Family Association. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Book Summary

There are a lot of textbooks that describe how to find your ancestors; this new one by Richard Hite clarifies how not to. In short, Sustainable Genealogy explains how to avoid the traps many family historians can fall into. Whether it’s a proud family legend, a venerable publication, or the claims of an Internet family tree, the unsubstantiated genealogical source is like a house of sticks before the Big Bad Wolf–it won’t stand up. As Mr. Hite demonstrates in this collection of case studies, many are the “oral traditions that have fallen by the wayside under the lens of careful research in primary sources and more recently, DNA testing.”

Here are just a few of the lessons from Sustainable Genealogy that can protect you along genealogy’s primrose path:

  • Recognizing when identical surnames conceal different nationalities
  • Understanding when and why death certificates can be “wrong”
  • Knowing when ancestors’ middle names are not family names
  • Respecting the role of geography in establishing ancestral ties
  • Taking the genealogies in 19th-century “mug books” with a grain of salt
  • Accepting that all relationships must be chronologically plausible

Book InfoSustainable Genealogy with Richard Hite on Fieldstome Common

Title: Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends

Publisher: Genealogical Publishing Company (2013)

Trade Paperback; 110 pages

Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends is available for purchase from Amazon.com and other booksellers.

The Interview

Richard and I talk about how he got involved in genealogy and the many rabbit holes he went down before he sorted out the myths from reality in his family history. Trouble areas that we touch on are surnames with multiple spellings and multiple national origins, maiden names, the royalty seekers, the would-be famous ancestors, the infamous Indian Princess and much more!

Prize Winners

One copy of Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends was given out to the Fieldstone Common audience courtesy of Genealogical Publishing Company.

The winner is:

  • Margot Thompson of Massachusetts

Congratulations to our winner and thanks to Genealogical Publishing Company for their generosity in donating the book!

Make sure you qualify to win the giveaway next week by signing up for the Bonus List! Once you sign up your are in the running each week!

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Researching Legends: Post Script with Jeremy D’Entremont

Post Script with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone Common

Jeremy D’Entremont

Recently, I interviewed maritime expert Jeremy D’Entremont about his book Ocean-Born Mary: The Truth Behind a New Hampshire Legend. (Listen to the interview here.) The book details the items most likely based in fact about Mary’s ocean birth, the pirates and the ghosts surrounding the story and reveals the embellishments based purely in fiction.

With this Post Script interview we dig a little deeper into the importance of researching legends and Jeremy provides advice for those getting started in this kind of research.

Post Script: Researching Legends with Jeremy D’Entremont

MPL: Why did you think it was important to document which aspects of Ocean-Born Mary were true and which were fiction?

JD: I love legends and myths, but I think it’s important to try to separate them from factual history when we can. When we’re unsure of the dividing line between truth and fiction, I think we need to clearly say so. Also, it can be fascinating to trace the development of a legend over time, observing how embellishment is repeated to the point that it becomes “truth.”

MPL: Can you take us through the process of how you narrowed down which pirate was the most likely fit for the Ocean-Born Mary story?

JD: I had no preconceived notions about this. I simply went by contemporary newspaper accounts that showed a Scottish ship being attacked by pirates in July 1720, and determined that the captain, called “Thomas Roberts” in the accounts at the time, was, in fact, Captain Bartholomew Roberts. The only other strong possibility, as far as I can determine, would be Montigny LaPalisse, a French pirate who was possibly in command of a ship sailing with Roberts. I haven’t found any evidence that places any other pirate captain off the northeast coast around that time.

MPL: If someone were going to research a legend to determine the truth of it, what advice would you give to help get them started?

JD: The important thing is to assemble all the evidence first, without any preconceptions. I think it’s very similar a crime investigator would work by gathering evidence without any preconceived notions about how it all fits together. Scour every possible source and see where it leads you. These days you can do much research online, but you also need to get out to historical societies, libraries, and other repositories of old newspapers, genealogical publications, etc. It’s amazing what you can do on your computer from home these days, but you still need to get out in the field.

MPL: Ocean-Born Mary is based on a legend that combines both fact and fiction. Ocean-born Mary with Jeremy D'Entremont on Fieldstone CommonIn your research on historic lighthouses have you found similar legends? If so, do they tend to fall more into the realm of fact or fiction?

JD: Yes, I have run into some similar legends involving lighthouses. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible to prove or disprove some of the stories that have been passed down, but that’s where critical thinking becomes important. An example is the famous ghost story of Seguin Island Lighthouse in Maine. The story as it’s usually told involves a keeper’s wife who played the same tune over and over on the piano until it drove her husband insane, and he supposedly took up an axe and killed his wife and himself. It seems to me that if this was a true story, someone would have produced a newspaper account or other proof of it by now, but nobody has. But can I say that it absolutely isn’t true?; No, I can’t. It may have some basis in fact.

MPL: Have you ever discovered a legend, perhaps related to a lighthouse, where the true story was more interesting than the fiction?

JD: Hmmm… I’m not sure about that. But I will say that some of the true stories of rescues of shipwreck victims near lighthouses are as dramatic as any fiction. An example is a famous rescue carried out in January 1885 by Marcus Hanna, keeper of the Two Lights Station at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He waded out waist-deep into freezing water during a blizzard to get a rope to two desperate, shipwrecked sailors, and he was able to get them safely ashore. Some of these true stories are so amazing that you would probably disbelieve them if they occurred in a novel or movie.

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