LEGENDS, LIES & LIBERTIES: Family Stories in Perspective

Who doesn’t like a good story? Family stories passed down generation after generation often take on a life of their own, like a child’s game of telephone, sometimes morphing over time to bear little resemblance to the truth. Seasoned genealogists always take these stories with a heaping teaspoon of salt and yet in my experience the stories often bear more fruit than one would imagine. These are example from my own family.


A recent post titled “There Were Three Brothers and …” by Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter for April 30, 2020 got me thinking. He writes “Genealogy newcomers often trip over the ‘three brothers’ story. It has been repeated thousands of times. I have yet to see one instance in which it is accurate. The story always starts with something like this: There were three brothers who immigrated to America. One went north, one went south, and one headed west, never to be heard from again…But 99.9% of the “three brothers” stories you will hear are fictitious.” Five months later I am still mulling that over. I take exception with this overly broad assessment that all three brother’s stories are patently false.

In my MOSER family it was actually an unspecified number of brothers who immigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania and claimed to be related. And further an article “Five MOSER Brothers Emigrate to North Carolina” as reported in the March-April 1974 Edition of People of the Marsh. “According to family tradition told to Rev D.I. Offman by Anthony and Nimrod MOSER of Orange Co., NC, five MOSER Brothers migrated from PA to NC before the Revolutionary War.” The article goes on to name the brothers and the counties in North Carolina in which they settled. With the aid of decades of research and DNA testing we now know the truth.

The father of the immigrant brothers was a Hans Adam MOSER who was baptized in Hetzweiler, Bavaria, Germany the 14th of September 1653 and died the 8th of August 1720 in Grossulrichausen, Wornitz, Bavaria.


During his life he was married 3 times and fathered 16 children! Five children died young. Of the remaining 11 children all 6 of the surviving sons immigrated to America. Johann Martin and his half brother Johann Adam MOSER in 1728 on the ship the “James Goodwill” and brothers Johann George Phillip, Johann Michael, and half brothers Tobias, Johann Leonard MOSER and a sister Eva MOSER Zwirner immigrated on the Adventure in 1732. It was the offspring of these 6 brothers that account for the “five brothers” story to North Carolina who were in some cases brothers and in other cases first cousins. Although the details may get a bit scrambled in the three hundred years that have passed the major elements of the story are indeed correct. So I urge the careful genealogist to not disregard these stories out of hand.


As the story goes as told to various members of my family, my second great grandmother Catherine Adeline STEWART was descended from the Royal STEWARTs of Scotland. The story goes that in the late 1800’s she was visited by a Scottish lawyer who gave her a history of the Stewart family and an inheritance sum of $3,000. This is roughly equivalent to about $60,000 today. For many years I never really gave this much credence. Then with the advent of YDNA testing a cousin tested and his markers and a rare mutation confirm he is a direct descendant of the John STEWART of Bonkyll line which is indeed part of the royal STEWART line. John Bonkyll was the second son of Alexander STEWART, 4th High Steward of Scotland.

Sir John Bonkyll Stewart Coat of Arms

So at least that part of the story is correct. As to the book or inheritance nothing has shown up. However Catherine A STEWART became the proprietress of the City Hotel in North Bend, Nebraska and I cannot help but wonder if she acquired this property through the funds she received.


In a handwritten family tree drawn by my grandfather is the notation that our PADEN line ancestor was with General SHERMAN on his March to the Sea during the Civil War. General Sherman led some 60,000 soldiers on a 285-mile march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia known as the March to the Sea. It’s purpose was to frighten Georgia’s civilian population into abandoning the Confederate cause.

The Civil War records and pension for our ancestor John Lewis PADEN show James also known as “Louie” was a Private in the Volunteer 12th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Rather than serve three months like some drafted troops the 12th Regiment was a “volunteer” group, and was known as “The First Scotch Regiment” and he signed up for three years. The first muster was Aug 1, 1860 at Cairo, Illinois. Just a couple weeks later on Aug 19, 1862 James L. PADEN enlisted at Cairo, IL. At the time his residence was Princeton in Bureau County, IL Age 21. His height 5′ 8; Hair AUBURN; Eyes BLUE; Complexion SANDY; Marital Status Single; Occupation FARMER; Nativity SANDUSKY, OH.

He was part of Company I which was mustered from Bureau Co, IL. From Military History Matters we learn “In Chicago, Illinois, the Highland Guard commanded by Captain John McArthur wore ‘the regular old style, with red frock coats, tartans, huge overhanging caps, bare continuations, and other paraphernalia’ when first organized in 1856. With the outbreak of Civil War in April 1861, this company formed the nucleus of the 12th Illinois Infantry, or ‘First Scotch Regiment’, with McArthur as colonel. Although the 12th Illinois received state-issue uniforms of gray at the beginning of its war service and later wore blue, its headgear until at least 1862 consisted of a Scottish tam-o’-shanter with tartan, or plaid, band. The 12th Illinois sustained heavy losses at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Corinth in 1862. In the defense of Allatoona, Georgia, on 5 October 1864, it suffered 57 casualties among its remaining 161 men. Survivors and replacements marched to the sea with General William Tecumseh Sherman, and then into the Carolinas to finish the war.”

Unidentified 12th IL Volunteers with Tam-o’-Shanter

James PADEN’s grandfather John PADEN immigrated from Ireland to Maryland about 1800 and his family was originally from Scotland. Not only did James Lewis PADEN participate in General Sherman’s March to the Sea November 15 to December 21, 1864, earlier the 12th Infantry Volunteers were part of Ulysses S. Grant’s Central Mississippi Campaign of November and December, 1862. This culminated in the assaults on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Other engagements include the Battles of Shiloh, Cornith, Resaca, Atlanata, Jonesboro and Bentonville. And they were present at the Surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his army as well as at the March to Washington, D. C., via Richmond, Va., April 29-May 19. On May 24 James L. PADEN was in Washington D.C. for the Grand Review of the Armies with General William Sherman and was discharged May 31 1865. So this one is demonstrably true.

Grand Review of Armies May 23 & 24 1865, Washington, D.C.

We also have a legend in our family about our ancestor Barnabas ALLEN serving with Ethan ALLEN and the Green Mountain boys of Vermont. This is a typical conflation story. First we have our Barnabas ALLEN born 24 June 1757 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts who enlisted first as a Private with Captain Frederick under Colonel Paul Dudley the 1st of August 1775. Paul Dudley Sargent commanded the 16th Regiment (later called the 8th Massachusetts) at the Siege of Boston, was wounded at Bunker Hill, commanded a brigade in the summer of 1776, and fought at Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton, and Princeton. They disbanded after the Siege of Boston.

Barnabas was later with Capt. Enos Parker of Colonel Benjamin Symond’s 2nd Berkshire Regiment where they were sent to reinforce troops at Fort Ticonderoga from December 16, 1776 to March 22, 1777.

1758 Map of Fort Ticonderoga

Earlier the Green Mountain Boys led by Ethan Allen had captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain May 10th, 1775. Furthermore Ethan ALLEN had a brother Ira ALLEN. Barnabas had a grandson Ira ALLEN born at Ira, VT the 12th of February 1791 in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The immigrant ancestor of Ethan ALLEN is a Samuel ALLEN Born in England about 1608. The ancestor of Barnabas ALLEN is a William ALLEN born in England the 23rd of March 1619. DNA shows not familial relationship between the two. So this family legend is demonstrably false but the conflation is understandable.


After my parents died I found a copy of an interview my father did with the Camp Tarawa Project (WWII Marine Corps Camp on the island of Hawaii). In that interview my father recounts how he testified at the trial of “Tokyo Rose.” Tokyo Rose was a moniker of any number of women who did radio broadcasts during the War to the troops in the Pacific. In the Federal case against Tokyo Rose, she was one Iva Toguri d’Aquino and she was tried for treason after the close of World War II. When I recounted this to my husband he remarked, “Well you know your Dad was a bit of a story teller.”

That was all the challenge I needed. Within a few minutes I had turned up the FBI list for witnesses testifying at the trial that took place in San Francisco, California. There was my father, Duane Franklin Mosier, who had indeed testified in the trial and recounted in numerous newspaper articles. Furthermore I later found a thank you note from Iva thanking him for his testimony on her behalf. (As a matter of principle I must recount that she lost her case and was imprisoned. She was paroled in 1956 and received a presidential pardon twenty years later. And the FBI went on to apologize for their handling of the case.)

From the Pacific Citizen pg 2 10 Sep 1949

Most stories even the most outlandish may indeed have some basis in fact and may hold clues to a fuller story of your ancestors. It is foolhardy to accept them as truth but equally foolhardy to discount them out of hand.


Exploring a Family Legend Deeper SHELDONs and the Underground Railroad

A Tale of Two Soldiers William Marsh FRANKLIN and James Lewis “Louie” PADEN

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.

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