Family Stories / Fact or Fiction?

Good morning, afternoon, evening (depending where you are) one and all….

I was listening to a webinar this week and the speaker reminded me of one important point that I thought worth sharing with you.

Take family stories with a pinch of salt and try to substantiate them with official records

The speaker gave an example of a family story passed down through generations of his family about an ancestor that participated in the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ in the Crimea in 1854.  It turns out that the ancestor was in the Crimea but 2 years after the famous event took place.

I had a similar story that passed down through generations of my family that when I scratched below the surface turned out to be sort of true but not.

So, a long story short….

The story I was told was that my maternal great great grandfather Andrew Doyle was a tax collector, was murdered and his body was found in the River Liffey in Dublin.  I was driven demented trying to find evidence of this in the records which should have been easy as in those days every little event got reported as citizens were paid to report stories.  But I couldn’t find anything.

The real story, after painstaking research, was that…

My maternal great great grandfather Terence Gorman was a Quay Porter working for the City of Dublin Steampacket Company and due to a work related accident drowned in the River Liffey in Dublin on 14 December 1872.

It turns out that… Terence Gorman was working on board the steamer Trafalgar which was moored at North Wall Quay.  The Trafalgar was lying with a steep slant towards the river.  A hogshead (large cask of porter) was put on deck from a lighter boat (similar to a barge) on the river and the cask rolled up to the hold where Terence was working. Due to the fact that the Trafalgar was slanting towards the river, Terence fell into the river with the cask and drowned.  He was survived by his wife Jane and four children – one of which was my great grandfather Patrick.  Terence was 27 years old.

An article in ‘The Freeman’s Journal’ dated 17 December 1872 reported that;

There are subsequent articles over the next 2 years were his widow Jane was seeking compensation from the City of Dublin Steampacket Company over his death in which we might call nowadays a ‘health and safety issue’.  I am still digging through newspaper archives and wills to see if I can find the outcome of the court case.

Article in ‘The Irish Times’ dated 27 June 1873
Article in ‘The Freedman’s Journal’ dated 12 July 1873

So lesson again is…

Take family stories with a pinch of salt and try to substantiate them with official records

It will save you lots of time and a lot less grey hairs in the long run… .

Warm wishes,


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