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All my life I've heard that girls married young "back then." It's not always clear what the speaker meant by "back then" but there's always this indication that girls were married off very young during previous centuries.

Now, that is obviously true in some cultures. It still happens today in some places. And there were times when children of rulers and great lords were officially married at very young ages, even though the actual marriage took place years later. I also have read of cases where extremely young girls in American frontiers were married to settlers who thus became eligible for more acreage.

But I'm not finding much evidence of that early marriage within my family. In fact, if I find someone who was married at the age of 14 I start digging to see if two women with the same name were mixed up. And I consider my ancestors to be pioneers on the frontier. They may have been living in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but they were killed by Indians while in the fields, they were building homes in unsettled territory, and children were kidnapped and raised by the tribes, so I think that they qualify as pioneers.

Are other people finding that what they were told about history and customs doesn't always match up to reality?

Nancy
Am I posting too much? Should I quiet down?
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When it comes to what we've been told,
I take on the "theory" that people didn't travel much or move families very far.

(comes from being a person who does want to know what's over the next ridge)

As I have read stories and memoirs, I have relished stories like Joseph Walker, born in Kentucky I think, and died in California; Peter Kalifornsky, whose family name comes from the ancestor who went from Kenai, Alaska to California and returned; the mummified bodies on the Silk Road with round eyes and red hair; and the desert people who have stories of watching sunset in the great ocean to the west.
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My People started out in Boston and Hartford, CT - then moved north and west almost every generation or moved twice in one generation.

got legislated out of the state of Vermont, went North, stayed for a couple generations, jumped back to the USA then continued west

or continued west into New York, then Ohio and skipped to California or Washington.

The Canadians seemed to go south or west to Winnepeg, then Calgary then BC or more north....

we didn't ever seem to settle for very long. itchy feet I guess

linda
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Many family stories are carried down from generation to generation as stories told around the fireplace. I think Alex Haley demonstrated this very well in his Roots book and tv series.

Often these stories are carried from generation to generation by memory, and get written down only later (as people realize that some details are getting left out). Plus story tellers sometimes embellish the story for the benefit of the current audience. Details can easily get distorted or affected by history, other stories, etc, etc.

Once they are written down, you have a document to study, discuss, and compare with other facts. Until then, stories can be fluid--always changing.

Be thankful when you are able to verify some details and you have something to work with. Too many stories get lost along the way leaving no record.
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No, you're not posting too much.

It still happens today in some places… if I find someone who was married at the age of 14…

The problem with words like "young" is that they are ambiguous. I'd certainly consider 14 or 15 to be a young age at which to get married.

In the US, the average age for first marriage was 29 and 27 for men and women (in 2011). But among Orthodox Jews (like myself), marriages at 20 are common.

So, what do people mean when they say girls married young back then? Do they mean 14? Or 18?
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So, what do people mean when they say girls married young back then? Do they mean 14? Or 18?

I think they haven't looked at facts. Yes, there are some groups, as I mentioned, where marriage in the early teens (or in some cases even earlier) is, if not the norm, than at least not shocking. But I think a lot of people are simply parroting something they read or heard, and have not sat down and looked at the data. I haven't actually done an average age, but I think, using a rough estimate, that the average age for women getting married in the New England area during what we call Colonial times is closer to 21 than 18.

Nancy
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"Are other people finding that what they were told about history and customs doesn't always match up to reality?"

When I got interested in genealogy about 10 years ago, I repeatedly heard stories from people who would say their ancestor's last name "got changed when they went through Ellis Island". My experience has shown this to not be the case.

The officials at Ellis Island used the ship's manifest to account for all the departing passengers. These manifests were completed at the port of origin (or a port along the way) and thus likely spelled the passenger's name correctly.

Rather, it appears that many immigrants changed their names themselves shortly after passing through Ellis Island in order to "Americanize" them.

-MD
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Rather, it appears that many immigrants changed their names themselves shortly after passing through Ellis Island in order to "Americanize" them.

That makes some sense. I've heard the stories passed along as if it were some clerk who did it. I imagine that would be a good reason to use if you didn't want to seem ashamed of your family name.

MOI
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My family named changed spellings over and over and over again all down the family tree. In one place, even people in the same immediate family spelled it differently from one another.
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My family named changed spellings over and over and over again all down the family tree. In one place, even people in the same immediate family spelled it differently from one another.

I have up to three or four different spellings of some last names. Sometimes two or three in the same document. Apparently standardized spellings weren't established until Social Security was introduced.

I knew someone whose family was Norwegian, and in Norway the last name was generally taken from the father's name, such as Olafsson being the son of Olaf. His grandfather wanted a different name, so he took the name of the village he came from.

And John Kerry, with a nice Irish type name, had a grandfather from Czechoslovakia who picked the last name Kerry in order to fit in with the Boston Irish.

Nancy
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I repeatedly heard stories from people who would say their ancestor's last name "got changed when they went through Ellis Island".

I've more than one joke about that.

My favorite is about the Jew named Shaun Ferguson. Having previously been sent back to Europe for some medical malady, he decided to give a false name to the clerk at Ellis Island.

But when he came to the front of the line, he couldn't remember the false name he had decided to use. The immigration clerk asked him his name, and he answered, “Shoyn Fargesn!” (Yiddish for, "I already forgot!")

True story:
According to my mother and her siblings, my grandmother said they came over on a ship called the "Monte Carlo." I found the manifest on the Ellis Island website; it was the "Mount Carroll."
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