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.
It is an interesting story, and you might almost believe it. After all, how else can you explain the fact that the same surname pops up in so many places?
What fascinates me is that there are always three brothers, never two or four or five or six. And didn't they have any sisters? Why did they go in three different directions? Couldn't two of them go someplace together while the third struck out on his own? Why does each one take a different trip?
An examination of thousands of immigration and naturalization records shows that brothers usually remained close-knit and usually resided near each other after immigration. The "three brothers" myth apparently was invented and repeated by lazy genealogists who could not be bothered to find the truth. It is a poor excuse for rationalizing why the same surname appears in multiple locations.
When searching for surnames in immigration records, you normally will find more than one immigrant of the name. In many cases, each immigrant did not know the others and moved to wherever he pleased. Later genealogists tried to justify the appearance of one surname in multiple locations and assumed something that is not documented in any records.
Be wary of the three brothers myth. You always want to confirm such claims to establish that indeed there were three brothers instead of three unrelated men with the same last name. Yes, someplace in history there probably were three brothers somewhere who split up and went separate ways. But 99.9% of the "three brothers" stories you will hear are fictitious. Before you accept the "three brothers" story in your family tree, do yourself a favor: find documentation that proves the names of their parents.
Speaking of genealogy myths, in a future newsletter I will write about Cherokee princesses.