Saturday, May 28, 2011

Surname Saturday: "We're connected because my dad said so..."

Can you prove a connection to all of the names on your surname list?

This post is prompted by an email exchange I recently had with someone who contacted me because of their connection to the Kettle family in the maternal branch of my family tree. The exchange prompted me to consider what it means to say that we are connected to someone who lived long ago. What kinds of research have we done to establish these connections? What do we consider to be a legitimate source for research? Do we document our claims, or are we simply surname collectors? Believe or not, I am surprised to discover what some researchers consider to be acceptable answers to these questions.

In this particular email exchange the author, whom I will call 'Andy'** since I don't have permission to use his/her name, wrote about having discovered my blog in the course of doing family history research. In the first message Andy claimed to be an "immediate" descendant of Andrew J. Kettle. I was a little flummoxed by the use of the word 'immediate', because I have always understood 'immediate' to be a referent for the closest family members of a person. For example, as his daughter, I am an 'immediate' descendant of my father. Setting aside meanings, I continued to read the message. Andy explained that, as the official family genealogist, for years every family member has relied on Andy to do all of the family history research.

I was very excited to be contacted by this fellow family member and so wrote back right away explaining that my maternal great-great grandmother Mary Kettle Fitzpatrick is Andrew J. Kettle's sister. I outlined the maternal branch of my family tree in order to demonstrate my connection to her, and explained that I would be happy to share my sources and documentation. Then, I asked how Andy is connected to the family. The answer I received very much surprised me. Andy said the following, "Our family surname is Kettle, and my dad said we are descended from Andrew J. Kettle, the Irish Land Leaguer".

Thinking my question had been misunderstood, I wrote back asking about Andy's lineage. You know, which child of Andrew J. Kettle is your great-grandmother, grandmother, great-grandfather, grandfather, or whatever? The email reply I received almost knocked me over. Andy repeated that their surname is Kettle, and that their dad told their family they were 'immediate' descendants of Andrew J. Kettle.

Okay, I admit it, I was like a dog with a bone on this one. I wrote back and explained that I did not understand the way in which Andy was using the term 'immediate', and asked for clarification. Also, I included the names of all of the Kettle children and asked, of the names I had listed, to whom is Andy related?

Big surprise (not): I did not receive a reply. So...I guess Andy is descended from Andrew J. Kettle because Andy's dad said so. The source is not a record or even a family tree; the source is insistence.

My dad once mentioned that our family is connected to St. Laurence O'Toole. I have not yet done the research to prove or disprove that the connection to this 12th century Irish saint is a legitimate one, but hey "my dad said" we are connected. If I use Andy's logic that would mean my dad's claim must be true. That would be a very good thing because then I would have a direct connection to Heaven, and I might very well need one.

Click on photo to view larger version.
Copyright©J.Geraghty-Gorman 2011.

Note:**I am using the alias "Andy" as gender neutral: it is not my intention to embarrass this man or woman and so I am not identifying this person as a man or a woman.


  1. Fascinating. I was most interested in the title of official family genealogist for a researcher basing their line on "my dad says so." It appears that they were not very interested in learning more about the line. Perhaps they will write back and explain their position more???

  2. Hello Heather,

    Thanks for your comments; they are much appreciated. I agree with you, and I really do hope to hear from them again. It is my feeling also that an "official family genealogist" would actually do genealogy research, so I don't really "get it". Oh well.


  3. Good post. Here in the USA of late, at any rate, I am sorry to say, it seems that verifiable facts are generally not in vogue in many areas of life, so I am not surprised that "Dad says so" would be insisted upon as the only verification needed.

    We have a story we like to chuckle about amongst our family members regarding an artifact that my grandfather long ago told us once belonged to Michael Collins because the person who'd given it to him said so. My mom treasured it and took it on Antiques Roadshow when they arrived locally. Turned out the item was manufactured a decade or so after Collins's death. She was too amused to be dismayed by this!

  4. Well, my aunt said that we're related to Davy it must be so!! haha! I'm amazed at the immediate connection people want to make to someone famous. I'm sure, somewhere in the line, a family member did something notorious...good or bad!

  5. Hello Christina and Michelle,

    Thanks very much for your comments; they are much appreciated. I love both stories; hilarious!! I guess we do need a good smile every now and then.

    Cheers to you,

  6. Sometimes these rumors are true. I scoffed at my grandfather for years because he said we were cousins to someone with a very famous wife. I told everyone how it was "impossible" for someone in that time period in Massachusetts to be related to someone in the Sandwich islands. I spent 30 years trying to prove the connection, and suddenly an archivist in Hawaii sent me a 100 year old letter to my grandfather's grandmother. It was true after all. I wish my grandfather were still around so I could tell him he was right, and how we were related. He would have loved it!

  7. I really enjoyed this. We have a family story that has been passed down for several generations that we are "direct descendants of MacIain, the Red Fox, of Glencoe, who was murdered in his bed by Glenlyon, a Campbell, after a fortnight's hospitality . . . in 1692." It's a great story, and we had loads of fun when we discovered it was based on an actual event, but I am not listing MacIain in my family tree.

  8. Hello Heather and Margel,

    Thank you so much for your comments; they are much appreciated.


    I absolutely agree with you that sometimes the rumours are true; I started my family history with quite literally nothing but rumours and so far have been able to uncover the truth about a fair number of them. I love your story! It must have been an absolute thrill to receive that letter. I wish someone would send me a document like that. I can imagine your grandfather with a big smile on his face right now saying, "I told you so".

    In the case of the Kettles who are related to Andrew J. Kettle, there is so much information available that I find it difficult to imagine any roadblocks which would stand in the way of Andy's research to prove a connection, so in this case I remain skeptical.


    I love this story! Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could include Maclain, the Red Fox, in your family tree? I wonder what he did that Glenlyon thought justified killing him, and after "a fortnight's hospitality" no less. Sounds like a cautionary tale against too much partying. Yikes.

    Cheers to you both,


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Cheers, Jennifer

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