The fun thing about genealogy is that every family member has a different part of the story. Memories are reflections of individual experiences and our stories follow. Memories are the fuel for leads and all leads have to be thoroughly tested before the genealogical standard of proof has been satisfied. Family memories and legends hold great value but they don’t usually satisfy the standard.
The challenge in genealogy is to formulate reasonable hypotheses with appropriately narrow research questions. In genealogical research, we have to keep the memories and family legends in the back of our minds to formulate the hypothesis, and then discard many assumptions. Objectivity, as a component of scientific research methods, has been one of the most beneficial things I’ve learned, and also one of the most challenging to practice…especially in family history.
Example: The family legend is that Dan’s middle name was Joseph, however, most of the documents have “J” for a middle initial and a few have James or John. We know that records can have loads of errors so until a highly credible source surfaces (e.g., U.S. Social Security Claims index or certified death certificate, or a combination of such sources), we can’t really conclude anything about Dan’s middle name.
I recently had a scenario like this and it was gratifying to find highly credible information to back up the family legend about a person’s middle name. Sometimes we’re lucky like this and sometimes we’re not. Until evidence surfaces, all memories and legends remain memories and legends, rather than proof. Our research conclusions are only as strong as our evidence.