Published: September 15, 2020
Every family has stories they tell about one another. Some become more legendary than others. According to Dictionary.com, a legend is a noun that describes an unproven event that is often accepted as a historical fact to the family or clan.
A professional Genealogist (Elizabeth Shown Mills) disproved a wildly accepted fabrication about an African American Matriarch, ‘Documenting Birth, Parentage, and Origin of a Slave (Marie Therese CoinCoin, 1742 – 1816): A Test of Oral History.’ Published by The National Genealogical Society Quarterly: 96 (December 2008): 245 – 266.
The legend surrounding Marie CoinCoin is a powerful ex-Slave who befriended a French official who gave her a mansion and her freedom upon his death. The stories about Marie vary from person and generation.
CoinCoin has the Cane River Creole National Historic Park and the ‘CoinCoin-Prudhomme House,’ and Melrose Plantation to document a fierce story about a Slave who was able to have a happy ending to their story after so many years of suffering and degradation.
It’s not surprising that people were upset to learn that Marie CoinCoin was a complete fabrication according to the rock-solid research of professional genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills.
Some Legends are More Important than Facts
We tell one another stories as ways to understand what is happening around us and our places in the world. Marie CoinCoin may have been born in the overactive imagination of a well-meaning creative spirit, but she encapsulated a hope that many people had at the time. The Cinderella tale for enslaved, young women facing horrors that we can only shudder to imagine.
Just because a family legend is not factual, does not mean that there is no truth in it. Stories have a way of changing us because we understand an event from a different perspective and connect to others through the guise of legends.
Hard, Cold, DNA Facts
If you have been lucky and found supporting evidence of your family legend lending itself to a more factual status than a deep dive with a DNA test might be another element of proof to add to your genealogical profile.
On the other hand, if the data is sparse and proving difficult to collect a DNA test can lead to new clues and provide information that could help connect your families’ movements from many, many generations ago.
There are DNA tests out that make a lot of lofty claims and offer services at cut-rate prices. It can be difficult to tell which company is reputable and can be trusted to provide accurate and comprehensive results. DNA Weekly is a website that independently reviews the services of company’s offering DNA testing services and how they measure up in comparison to their competitors.
DNA can reveal sensitive information that may impact more than just the tested individual. Keep in mind how DNA results might affect other people and seek advice before discussing results.
Talk to Your Older Family Members
The very best resources any family historian has is their family and their family’s memorabilia.
A visit with an older family member can provide more details and clues than any other resource.
If you have already found photos or other items have them ready to share with your relative. The item may spark a memory and provide more evidence the family legend is real. Be sensitive about certain topics if your family member seems resistant or hesitant to discuss a topic, move on. There are always other ways of finding the information that you are searching for.