Forgotten History and its Effect on Your Ancestors


Forgotten history seems to be the theme on Facebook and in the types of talks sponsored by local historical societies and living history sites. Below is a sampling of events and articles that are bringing to light forgotten or “misremembered” history.

Michelle Coughlin will be speaking on March 21 at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston on “Plymouth Colony’s First Lady Penelope Winslow: Reconstructing a Life through Material Culture”
Penelope was the wife of Josiah Winslow, governor of Plymouth County, and was one of the most powerful women in the colony, yet few remember her today. Michelle brings her to life through material culture.

Kerima Lewis will talk on February 12 about the role of slavery in colonial New England, something that many don’t know about. Her talk is titled “Discover Historic New England: Captives from Africa via the Caribbean.” This article provides information about the slaves that Abigail Adams knew as a child that remained an important part of her life as an adult.

I first met Darren, chief of the Shoshones, last year at a history conference and was deeply impressed by his love for his people and his history. He has been working tirelessly towards a memorial for the massacre of the Shoshone in the 1800s that few know about today. You can read more here.

old south meeting house

I’m not sure how many of the events above I will make it to, but I did make it to one event at the Old South Meeting House in Boston, MA (see photo) that made me think more about how history can be forgotten, or wrongly remembered (think myths that arise from historical events). The event was a panel discussion focusing on the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston’s North End, Massachusett’s forgotten suffragists, and Leif Erikson.

The most interesting part of the panel was why parts of history and historical figures are forgotten:

  1. Lack of sources
  2. Someone else told their version of the story more effectively (why Lucy Stone, suffragist, was forgotten. Stanton and Cady, although perhaps less influential in terms of work accomplished, were far more effective in telling their side of the story.)
  3. Only “ordinary” people were affected (molasses flood hit the part of town populated by poor immigrants)
  4. Politics (although >20 people died and a couple hundred were injured, they weren’t important enough for politicians to do anything to fix the problem and to remember them)
  5. Targeted and deliberate exclusion (women of color in the suffrage movement by Stanton and Cady)
  6. People find evidence to fit what they believe

I am still thinking a lot about the 1918 flu epidemic and why it was forgotten. Some of the reasons above apply. Other reasons include

  1. The worst of the epidemic was ending just as the Armistice was signed. People were ready to move on to happier times.
  2. Unlike WWI, which was supported by government who then erected monuments, there was no establishment behind the 1918 flu, so monuments were not erected
  3. The horror was too much to talk about (or write about)

When doing your genealogical research, how have you dug out these forgotten histories? What sources do you use? How do you share the forgotten stories that you discover?



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