If you've not read this before, let me be the first - every family has a story or two or three. Sure, some have more than others and yes, some are more interesting than others. Bottom line, if there is a story that has been shared for a generation or two or more in your family, chances are good that there is some element of truth at the foundation of the story.
Certainly any story will have been embellished over time, whether intentionally or not. Memories fade, as the story is told and retold, it changes in many ways. The great news for family historians in this new millennium is that many of these stories stand a good chance of being unraveled. Many, but certainly not all.
I have been able to unravel two family mysteries over the years, both before the advent of the Internet as we know it. Both were solved first by obtaining death certificates for the individuals in question (the family legends in each case had to do with their cause of death). Upon reviewing the cause of death for each, I knew there would be something more than a simple obituary in the newspaper. With an exact date of death, I then turned to the local newspapers (on microfilm in this case) and filled in the missing pieces. The 'fractured skull' which led to the death of my great grandfather was the result of a fall from a forth floor veranda during a heat wave. The 'traumatic decapitation' was, as you might expect, covered in extremly gruesome detail in the newspapers of 1912. The article headline read, "Man Decapitated By Iron Weight In Local Factory."
The 'legend' was that he was hit and killed by a trolley car. As many historical newspapers are being digitized and still other documents are being shared online by individuals, historical and genealogical societies, libraries, archives, and others - you never know what you may be able to find . . . but it's certainly worth a look!
You can click on the image below to view a full-size death certificate. Note the primary cause of death is listed as 'Traumatic Decapitation' and the secondary cause of death is 'Leg & Arm Severed' - certainly not something you want to find for your ancestors.