Genealogy Myths: There Were Three Brothers . . .

11 Mar 2013

This week on the Mocavo blog we are bringing to you a series on great genealogy myths. Each day we will discuss one of the largest myths in genealogical research, plucked from the legion that are out there. These are in no particular order, and I do not portend that they are necessarily the largest myths either. There are certainly others on at least equal footing. But they are ones that I come across quite frequently.

Today we will discuss the “three brothers” stories. It seems like so many families have this tradition. It doesn’t matter if the immigrants were from the seventeenth century or the twentieth century. The story goes something like this.

The three brothers were escaping something horrible. Sometimes it is described as living conditions, sometimes they were escaping military service. Sometimes they might have been escaping the law. They arrived in America, and somehow they split up. One went north, one went south, and one went west. Eventually the families lost touch, and no one knows what happened to the other brothers.


The three brothers are still traveling together. The Jonas Brothers on the road.


There are variations on these themes. Sometimes it was two brothers or four brothers.  Perhaps two of them went off in the same direction before being separated. Maybe their reasons for coming to America were different. But the underlying theme is the same.

I found this story with one of my uncle’s seventeenth-century ancestors. Three brothers supposedly came into Boston. One went north to New Hampshire, one went south to Rhode Island or Connecticut, and the other went to western Massachusetts. My uncle is descended from the one who went to New Hampshire. Despite detailed research, there is no evidence whatsoever that there were three men with the same name who entered Massachusetts at that time, let alone that there were three brothers.

The vast majority of these stories are false. Did people migrate together in family units? Absolutely. Especially internal migration once families arrived in the United States. But migrating from other countries to America, they were at least as likely to migrate alone.

When you come across such stories in your research, take them with a grain of salt. Look for evidence of your ancestor. If there is evidence of brothers coming together, you will find it. If not, the likelihood is that there were no brothers. He arrived alone. But if you go looking for three brothers arriving, you might not see your actual ancestor right there in the  records, because you are looking for something else.