Family Fact or Family Fiction?

All families have their stories. And as time passes these stories often morph from a run-of-the-mill account into a Paul Bunyanesque tall tale. Especially in a family full of hams like mine. The trick then becomes distinguishing fact from fiction in our family history.

One of my favorite family legends is about old Aunt Maud, my mother’s great aunt. As the story goes, an 80-year-old Aunt Maud loaded her frail body into her Caddy one dry Las Vegas night for a joy ride. And as she peeled through the sagebrush and open desert at bank-robber-like speeds, she flew by a police officer.

Compelled by the law, the police officer attempted to pull Maud’s Cadillac over. But flashing lights and sirens did little to deter old Maud, and she led the officer on a chase through the desert. When she finally pulled over the officer demanded Maud get out of the car. We can all only imagine his surprise when a tiny woman, old enough to be his grandmother, exited the car in her nightgown. We also can only imagine his even greater surprise when he approached the old woman, and she crumpled up her papery fist and popped him one in the nose.

Now, this is how I learned the story when I was a little girl. And I’ve always loved Maud’s moxie. But now that I’m a little older, if not a little wiser, I realize that Aunt Maud probably had dementia. And this tale of guts and glory is probably more accurately interpreted as a warning to my waning mind. But does that make the story any less valuable?

In an upcoming episode of The Generations Project adventurer Vicki Biss decides to follow a family story to its roots to determine once and for all what is fact, and what is fiction. See what unravels as she explores.

How important is it to you that your decedents have accurate information about your life? Or is it more important to you that they have a good story?

Be sure to tune in for Vicki’s story to see what she uncovers, and don’t forget to weigh in on your opinion of family fact vs. family fiction.


Jean-Fran├žois de Buren | April 28, 2010 at 3:25 PM

You raise a very interesting point. I am facing a similar issue with a project that revolves around my Swiss great-great-grandfather. He was a man of his times with all that entails both positive and negative.

He loved his family and was a man of culture, but some of his social views were of his time and make me shift in my chair when I read them. My quandary is do I simply let his words speak for themselves, or do I alter them to fit our views today. If I rewrite his words to make me feel better am I doing his legacy a disservice? This is what I am wrestling with at the moment.

Dara | April 28, 2010 at 5:32 PM

My father's side of the family is known for those tall tales. Especially tales revolving around my great great grandfather, who was a known bootlegger and often hid out from the law :P One of the tales involves a Hatfield/McCoy type shoot out with the neighbors over pigs--and was actually recorded in a local newspaper too!

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