Genealogy adventures: sifting family facts from myth

One of the earliest myths around the Sheffey name that I can remember is that the name was French.  No one seemed to know how or why or when this idea first surfaced within the family.  It was just one of those family stories that had been passed down and accepted as fact.

My immediate family lived in two different states along the Eastern Seaboard from the 1950s to the 1980s and none had ever come across anyone with the surname. Extended family and family friends had never heard of anyone with the surname either. So there weren’t other Sheffeys to ask. In an age well before the advent of the internet (in the form we recognise today), that family myth was safe and secure.

Sometime in the 70s, I remember my father sending off for one of those expensive surname genealogy reports.  We were all excited when it arrived.  I can still see the book: impressive leather with the family name embossed in gold leaf on the front cover…and pages upon pages covering the history of the name, family crest and all kinds of impressive general facts.  And there it was, written in beautiful script; the Sheffey name came from France – although the name was spelt Scheffe.  And not just French, but Norman. There were all manner of ancient noble French Sheffeys doing all manner of heroic and heraldic things.  So that rather expensive, beautifully bound book cemented the legend.  So there we had it. We indeed had French blood.

I have to laugh about France and Normandy.  France has 26 regions.  When it comes to genealogy, Normandy seems to be the number 1 region of origin for ancestors.

When I began this journey, I gallantly sailed forth in the full expectation of finding those lost French connections.  It came as something of a surprise when the research quickly unveiled that the name, as least for Virginian Sheffeys, was German; from the State of Rheinland-Pfalz in the Palatine to be precise.  Well, at least from the late 17th Century onwards (where it originated before that still remains a mystery). Oh yes, and a family without an official coat of arms either (nothing official that has ever been recorded in Germany at any rate).  Nor any noblemen, yet. We do have a 17th Century Judge who was also a prosperous flour mill owner.  So, all in all, that beautiful book was a wonderful work of fiction.  There may be Sheffeys of French origin living in the US.  However, we aren’t one of them.

So keep an open mind when it comes to family myths – and be wary of those general family surname genealogy books advertised by genealogy ‘experts’.

Sifting fact from fiction is what makes this adventure so interesting.

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