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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 211 - How Flimsy is our History

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the world and by the history of families. If you read the history books, it seems like we have it pretty well down, year by year.  Yet, when you get below the superficial aspects of rulers and wars and other movements, much of our very recent past is almost unknown and unrecorded. In many cases the written record is entirely wrong, based on assumption and misreading.

Here’s one example: In our history one of the most celebrated voyages is that of the pilgrims to Massachusetts in 1620. All the names are well known, well researched, in fact over researched. Yet of the passengers on the Mayflower, we know the actual origin in England of less than half. We know the parents of even fewer. Many of the maiden names of the women are unknown.

Here’s another example from one of my own families. John Drake was a well-known settler of Connecticut in the 1630s. Based on letters and wills, he was identified as a member of the Drake family of Ashe, Devon, a very well connected baronial family. One will even referred to John Drake as being in Connecticut. No problem. It had to be that family. However, there was one inconsistency. John Drake had children born in England and no record of them had ever been found around Ashe, Devon, or anywhere. One of the names was Job Drake, very unusual. Still the identification stuck.

With the indexing of more and more records, researchers continued off and on to look for Job Drake without much success. Finally one day he was found and not where anybody expected to find him, Hampton in Arden, Warwickshire, in 1619, several counties away from where he should be if the assumptions about his family were correct. His father was John Drake, his mother was Lettice, and his brothers were the same men with the same birthdates as later appeared in Connecticut. It seemed the aristocratic connection was all wrong and the Connecticut Drakes would have to give up their royal ancestry.

However, there is a twist to this story. Arden was near Stratford on Avon and when John and Lettice’s marriage record was found, her maiden name turned out to be Shakespeare and given the few of that name in the area, she is most likely a cousin of that well-known dramatist William Shakespeare.

This problem happened in the era about 400 years ago in an era when there were plentiful records. If you go back in history another 200 years, the records fade to the vanishing point and much of history becomes a web of tales written down many years later, annals compiled by people of varying veracity, and mostly by the winners of whatever conflicts were going on at the time.

When we reach ancient history, the records are very thin, scattered and incomplete. So when anyone speaks of certainty about what happened in any given period of history, and bear in mind that we use history and its myths to justify almost everything we do, just remember that they don’t know any more about that period of time than you do and that what they do know is probably wrong, just as the accepted story of my ancestor John Drake was so miserably and fascinatingly wrong.

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