Grandma Lied?! Family fact turned family fiction.

Abino and Isabel When searching for documentation on my great-grandmother, Isabel, I wasn’t able to find her civil birth registration. Where it was supposed to be, it wasn’t there. While searching for her sister’s birth record, I was surprised to find Isabel’s birth certificate in 1902–five years earlier than expected. Isabel’s death certificate and headstone both have 1907 (the incorrect birth year) which was the “known” fact. My grandfather was her oldest child of 7 and they all “knew” she was born in 1907. She told that fact to her kids, and they all passed it down to each generation.

In the grand scheme of things, five years really isn’t much. Except it made a big difference in the story of her relationship with my great-grandfather. Isabel said her parents didn’t approve of the relationship because he was not only poor, but much older. It was a scandal that the two ran off together and she had my grandfather when she was 14! 

After finding her birth certificate, I spent extra time searching through the marriage certificates and finally managed to dig it up. The two were married the year before my grandfather was born. Isabel was 18 and my great-grandfather was 23. So…no scandal, no running away with a much older guy, and definitely no having a kid at 14. Now time to tell the family, including her surviving children.
People today lie about age for a number of reasons, but to make yourself younger and create a scandal? My great-grandmother told this inventive story and my great-grandfather never set anyone straight. I have no idea why she did and the motive will remain a mystery.

I love searching for documents and putting the pieces together for my family tree. Finding this birth certificate and disproving Isabel’s spun tale was a good reminder for me to look for documents to source all of my facts. This includes “known” facts and turning them  into proven facts. 

So if our ancestor lied, how do we find the truth? Challenge what you know by gathering the evidence to document and source the events in your family. Best of luck!

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7 thoughts on “Grandma Lied?! Family fact turned family fiction.

    • Maybe she thought the real story wasn’t as exciting? Personally, I would expect the scandal to be shrouded in mystery with covering it up instead of the opposite, like this case, where the sensational story is much more than exaggeration. I’m very curious about telling her kids (my great aunts and uncles) to get their reaction and insight about the why.

  1. How interesting… Like you say, most people would lie to cover up a scandal, not to create one! I wonder if there was some other kind of scandal, and she chose to tell the story about her age to deflect attention from the real reason? Just speculating, but what a great find and a great point. You have to take the clues from other family members as what they believe to be true, but not necessarily absolute truth.
    So intriguing! I hope you’ll post a follow-up once you’ve heard your family’s reaction. 🙂

  2. I’ve been wondering lately: given our greater openness these days, do you suppose future family researchers will have an easier time of it? I’ve been finding evidence of various skeletons in my family closet – multiple marriages (perhaps without divorce), lying on marriage license apps about previous marriages; individuals committed to mental institutions; wildly fluctuating birth dates; and more. So many of these probably wouldn’t be grounds for lying these days.

  3. Hi Kyla – I think your post about grandma lying is intriguing. I find the lying ancestors thing really tricky – trying to get to the bottom of whatever the truth is, while trying not to upset my relations who may feel a bit unsettled about new facts. Your story really is an usual take on lying isn’t it – making herself seem ‘worse’ than she was… Thanks for the post – very interesting!

  4. Hi Kyla – Interesting post and great comments as they all have grains of truth in them. Our parents, grandparents, etc., came from a different era that had a stricter moral conscience and ‘mistakes’ often got covered up, and sometimes those family cover ups became family legend. In my grandmother’s scrapbook I have my mother’s very formal wedding announcement indicating they were married Sept 1941. It wasn’t until two years ago that I found her marriage certificate indicating she had she was really married in November 1941. My brother was born in June 1942, hence the fabrication. When I mentioned this to my Aunt she was quite concerned and very quick to reassure me that my dad loved my mother. I’m not sure it would be as much a crises nowadays. Your great-grandmother’s situation is different of course and definitely a mystery. Any chance there was a child before your grandfather?

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