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July 26, 2008

A Genealogical Fish Story

It's interesting how we genealogists are eager for stories of our ancestors - the more bizarre or unusual, the better! I'm sure everyone has an interesting tale or two (or more!) which has been handed down in the family.

But what happens when we find a paper record that might prove or disprove that family lore? How disappointing is it to find out that Great grandma Harriet was not the love child of the Duke of Wellington but according to her birth registration, was the child of a farmer and a scullery maid. On the other hand, how many bits of family lore do we find out are true, or have at least a grain of truth to them?

A bit of family lore passed down concerning my 3rd cousin twice removed had always intrigued me.

William Edward Learn (1885-1908) died tragically while fishing in the Niagara River. He had a rope tied around his waist while he was fishing and hooked a sturgeon which pulled him in and under. It was a month before his body was found with the rope and sturgeon still attached.

I wondered how accurate it was. A very kind correspondent sent this to me several years ago, copied directly from the Learn Family Bible. When the Ontario Death Records went online I decided to see what William's death registration gave for his cause of death. I expected to see "Drowning" as the cause of death. I expected I might not ever find out if the fish story was accurate.

Much to my surprise the cause of death was given as pneumonia which William had for 7days prior to dying. It seems a rather fanciful story for someone to dream up and record in a Family Bible. How did poor William's death from pneumonia end up being passed down in the family as William being killed by a fish?

I don't have the answer, I only have the story and a moral to the story. The moral is "Don't fall for family tales, hook, line and sinker or you could end up all wet"

1 comment:

footnoteMaven said...


The sturgeon story is too good not to include in the family history as a "tale of misinformation."

Now finding out how such a tall tale became family fodder, that's the story!