Those rumours – every family has them. Frequently they seem to relate to money in Chancery or Coats of Arms (almost certainly, if you are entitled to these you would know about it). Then there is the three brothers story. This one usually involves them all adopting slightly different spellings of the same surname. Well it happens but rarely as the result of a conscious decision by the individuals involved. Oh and the ‘came over with the Conqueror’ story. Maybe your ancestors did. Are you likely to be able to prove it? – No. When manning (or womanning) a family history stall you can pretty much guarantee that you will get at least one claim of descent from the Normans who arrived with William I. A late dear friend even had a sweatshirt made with the slogan ‘I have Norman Ancestors’ on it. In his case I had no grounds to disagree – his surname was Norman!
Two of the stories in my own family both begin with S. Firstly, my great grandfather, or maybe his father, was supposedly offered a half share in Smith’s Crisps for £50 and turned it down saying it wouldn’t catch on. Likely to be true? Well the surname was Smith – that’s a start. We certainly didn’t inherit Smith’s Crisps millions and in any case they long since sold out to a conglomerate. The Smiths were corn factors, grocers and tea dealers, sounds promising. For years I traced my own Smith ancestry. I discovered who founded Smith’s Crisps and I traced his ancestry too, as best I could. Geographically the families were close but I could not nail the link. I turned to other lines. Then when my daughter, at the time aged twelve, was in hospital she wanted to do some family history so together we revived the Smith research. It was at this point that I had another conversation with the friend I mentioned under ‘K is for Kinship’. Instead of saying ‘I am related to the Smith’s of London’, this time I added the Smith’s Crisps connection. Back came the reply ‘That is my Smith line.’ One of her relations, who fortunately had an unusual surname, was married to the Smiths of Smith’s Crisps and she had the vital piece of documentation that allowed me to make the connection. I can’t actually prove the £50 part of the story but my great grandfather and the founder of Smith’s Crisps were first cousins.
The other rumour is one that has been perpetuated in many branches of the Braund family. Allegedly the Braunds were of Spanish descent and arrived in Devon following the wreck of a Spanish Armada ship. This story appeared in the Evening Standard in 1928 and is dragged out by the media every silly season. It is even mentioned on interpetation boards in the North Devon village of Bucks Mills, home to many Braunds. True? No, total bunkum. There were no Braunds in Bucks Mills until the nineteenth century. ‘But’, say those who rather like the sound of this story, ‘The Braunds are quite swarthy and Spanish looking.’ Well, perhaps Braunds from elsewhere then? Nope. Braunds can be found in North Devon more than a hundred year before the Spanish Armada and in Lincolnshire for 300 years before that. Added to this, no Armada ship was wrecked of that part of the coast, despite ‘Armada’ cannon (that look distinctly Napoleonic in date) in a local park.
Do you have family stories? Often there is a grain of truth in these. They are certainly worth investigating, as long as you do not have great expectations of them being accurate in every particular. The fun is in the chase not the outcome. I greatly enjoyed unearthing the truth behind a friend’s family rumour that she was connected to the chocolate making, prison reforming Quaker Frys. If you want to hear that story you will have to wait until I am giving my ‘From Darlington to Wellington: the sad story of Isabella Fry’ talk!