Willen Frijhoff, “Emblematic Myths: Anneke’s Fortune, Bogarudus’s Farewell and Kiefts Son,” Myth in History, History in Myth Laura Cruz and Willen Frijhoff, editors (Leiden: Brill, 2009.), 118-122.
The author examines small, or emblematic, myths to see how they reflect the culture that creates them. These narratives express the perceptions of large groups of persons and are interpreted as history. He examines three myths from New Netherland history, showing how they affected a specific family.
Families in the new world frequently created myths connecting themselves to royalty, with these connections published in genealogical works. These myths cited specific royals who married and immigrated to the new world with little contact with their native families. The myths legitimize families aristocratic connections, land rights, and places them on a higher class within their culture. In many cases, markings on possessions were mis-interpreted as linking to royalty.
Other myths portrayed persons thought drown at sea as still living through their image in a painting, or similar persons suddenly showing up in civil documents following the shipwreck. In all of these cases, the founders of new places are shrouded in mythology, most of which is extremely difficult to prove. They define individual and public identities, and group people together through the commonalities the myths provide.
As a family historian, it is important to see the value in family myths. Although it may be unclear if they are true, they provide unification to ones family, as well as hints into the origins of ones ancestors. At the same time, one must not pin all their faith on them, as our ancestors frequently fail to live up to their mythical stature.