by Bob Brooke
Nearly every family has traditions. Stories, ways of celebrating an event, foods--all contribute to the rich cultural heritage of every family.
Often, families will have stories passed down from generation to generation. These may be about the fame or infamy of a particular relative-perhaps that a great-great-great-grandfather was a pirate or that a great-aunt was descended from royalty. Or of one who disappeared--the idea of a lost family member is quite prevalent.
Stories about the birth or death at sea during an immigration voyage are also popular. The dangerous and difficult conditions of shipping during 19th-century immigrations present sufficient grounds for exploring this possibility.
Mention of Quaker ancestry, or the religious affiliation of earlier generations, is important to note for further investigation. It can explain other circumstances in a family's history, such as the absence of Revolutionary War service because of Quaker pacifism.
If all the people who claim their ancestors came over on the Mayflower actually did, there probably would have been several ships full of passengers. In fact, there were but 100 passengers on board. It takes a lot of digging to substantiate such a tradition.
One of the most common misconceptions is that a family descended from a famous person of the same surname. This is usually not the case, as one surname may derive from various roots--including the professions, residences and even the physical characteristics of people who bore it.
Nearly everyone named Carter used to claim descent from Robert "King" Carter of Virginia, and more recently, to President Jimmy Carter of Georgia. Since there are many people with the professional surname Carter--based on a "carter" or one who carries items in carts or wagons or a corruption of the name from the word "carder," a carder of wool-- and numerous immigrants with the Carter name that settled in the southern colonies, it's unlikely that most of the present-day Carters are related to either gentleman. However, it makes a good story, and that's all it takes to start a family tradition.
Sometimes, a family's heritage may seem to originate in one nationality, when, in actuality, it originated in another. A man named Miller, who thought he was Irish, turned out to be German.
Perhaps there's a special dish that a family member serves that was supposed have been passed down over several generations. Looking for recipes for this dish from one generation to another can help prove this type of tradition.
Many families continue the traditions of their ancestors when they celebrate Christmas or other holidays. While these traditions usually only go back a generation or two, some, like the special celebrations of the Moravians have been carried on for hundreds of years. The Hispanic tradition of celebrating the Feast of the Three Kings with a special cake inside of which a tiny baby Jesus is hidden became part of another celebration by a different nationality--Mardi Gras in New Orleans(The Spanish originally settled the Mississippi Delta before the French).
In all likelihood, a search may reveal the exact opposite to a long-held family tradition.