What should we do with those family stories that have been passed down through generations but, we realize, are more fiction than fact? Should they be discarded in the interest of only recording accurate and factual information? I don't think so. I really believe those stories should be preserved and passed on to future generations. However, they should be clearly identified as family stories and not claimed as fact.
Early in my genealogy pursuits, I came across a story about my 10th great-grandfather Thomas Hatch and his second wife Grace. Since then, I have seen it repeated several times including at
. The version I see most often goes something like this:
It seems that Miss Grace was a very winsome and popular young lady and had several suitors beside Thomas Hatch. Eventually Miss Grace had narrowed her choices to two men; Thomas and another admiring gentleman. Evidently it was so difficult for the coy Miss Grace to select her husband from the two men it was decided that, since they were farmers, they would conduct a "reaping match." The whole point of this contest was that whoever could reap a certain equally measured portion of a field of grain the fastest would win the prize; our lovely Miss Grace. The day of the reaping match, Miss Grace had her portion staked out between that of the two men and the contest began. It was in the days that reaping grain was done by hand sickle, which was no easy task for any man. It appears that at some point the ever popular Miss Grace had come to a decision that no matter which man won, she wanted to marry Thomas. In order to insure that Thomas would win she slyly cut over some of her portion into Thomas' portion thereby assuring him the victory and her hand in marriage.
I wanted to include this story on my own
but, I wanted to make it crystal clear that it is just family legend and not historical fact. So, in the the true storytelling tradition, I didn't just repeat what was in the books but, I also added specific names I had found during me research and even added my own embellishments.
The Harvest of Thomas Hatch
Thomas Hatch had been left a widower by the death of his first wife. Needing a mother for his two young children, Lydia and Jonathan, he began to court the daughter of his neighbor, a farmer named Lewis. Grace Lewis was apparently a very attractive and popular young woman for she had several suitors in addition to Thomas. At last, the choice was narrowed to Thomas and just one other but, the lovely Grace could not seem to choose between the two. Finally it was decided that the two rivals would take part in a contest to determine who would win the hand of Grace. Since it was harvest time, the match would be a reaping contest. The one who could reap his portion of Farmer Lewis' field in the shortest time would be the winner.
On the day of the event, Grace announced that she too would take a part in the contest. She would start in the middle of the field and cut her swaths toward the edges, one side and then the other. The two suitors would start at opposite edges and cut toward the middle. The first to join his swath with Grace's would also join his life with hers.
In the early morning, the contest began. The two rivals paced off the distance to the center of the field and agreed that each patch was even. Grace cut her first swath straight up the middle of the field with an expertise gained through years of harvests. Her two suitors worked furiously to cut their way to the center and to the lovely Grace. The two young men were evenly matched. First one and then the other would take the lead. By ten o'clock, every neighbor for miles around had arrived to cheer on their favorite in the struggle for the hand of Miss Grace.
The noon hour arrived and the onlookers brought out their picnic lunches, but the rivals would not stop to eat. Both kept up an almost superhuman pace so great was each ones desire to win. Grace too kept up her work without a rest first cutting a swath toward Thomas and then one toward the other until finally, just before three in the afternoon, Thomas swung his sickle through the last thin row of grain and joined his harvested ground with Grace's. The young couple clasped hands and raised them high between them for all the town to see.
The happy pair, the relieved father and the jubilant neighbors hurried off to the Lewis home to celebrate the betrothal. Left behind, Thomas' rival gazed forlornly over the harvested ground. Something did not seem quite right to him. As he paced to and fro over the stubble, he saw that the portion he had cut was definitely a little larger that that cut by Thomas. A closer study showed him that each row of wheat that Grace had cut toward his side of the field was just slightly narrower than the rows cut toward Thomas' side. It seemed that Grace had made up her mind after all! The rival suitor chuckled to himself then set off after the noisy crowd. There would be a party this evening and the young ladies of the town would all be there. It was time for him to set his sights on another prospect. This time he thought, he would not choose a farmer's daughter to court.
To make it clear that this is not to be taken as fact, I added this disclaimer after the story.
Is the story true? Certainly not, although it may have some basis in fact. It is a true part of our family heritage though and, I think, worth passing on.
Since I wrote my version of the story, it has appeared on several other sites and now it too is becoming part of the family legacy.
Please, add those stories and rumors to your research. They are fun to record and fun to read. Just make sure you make clear just what they are. And feel free to make them your own.