Everyone's family is different. Between unique family traditions, quirky rituals, and bizarre oddities passed through generations, every family has at least a handful of things that make it special and cherished to each individual included in it. But what sets most families apart from one another are the things that happen within them.
Sometimes these can be sad, like a great-grandfather who tragically passed in a battle, or scandalous, like an aunt who once dated a U.S. president. Most of us grow up looking at our family through a relatively narrow lens. But once we get older and mature, we begin to step back and see the broader landscape of our family and its history—and, in the process, we learn some of the most interesting bits of information.
#1 Heroic Great-Grandfather
My great-grandfather saved my life, even though he passed 89 years before I was born. He was a semi-well-known medical researcher (enough for a family of bacteria to be named after him), who ended up passing after being crazy enough to inject himself with one of the diseases he was studying. About 100 years down the line, I caught one of the diseases that he studied; his research had paved the cure for that and a few other serious diseases.
#2 The Canker Sore Healer
My grandmother is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, which makes her special according to some Appalachian old wives' tale. Her breath heals canker sores, apparently. People who suffered from canker sores used to drive from miles around to go to her so she could puff air in their mouths and make the sores go away. I have multiple family members who swear it works.
My grandmother is from a German heritage. Surprisingly, she is on my ultra-religious side of the family, yet her healing abilities aren’t questioned at all or thought to be pagan in any way. My other grandmother believes in a lot of traditional folk medicine by way of herbs and “kitchen witchery” and everyone thinks she’s a crackpot. Personally, I’d trust the herbs over the breath.
#3 Rat Tea Treatment
My grandfather had been putting rat toxin in my grandmother's tea for ages. She was documenting it for a while and the authorities found out. They did a huge bust on him and apprehended him in front of all their kids. In court, he admitted to it and agreed to all the charges. Eventually, the judge, flummoxed, asking, "... But why?" And his answer was, "Because we agreed to it." Everyone in the courtroom scratched their heads, waiting for his explanation.
Apparently, they had made an agreement to use rat toxin to home-treat her deep vein thrombosis. The brand he used was basically a blood thinner so the rats couldn't clot when they got injured. My grandmother is crazy and I fully believe my grandfather's side. The case got thrown out of court.
#4 Lots of Cousins
My grandmother had three siblings and my grandfather had six siblings. They got married, then my grandma’s brother married my grandpa’s sister and my grandma’s first cousin married my grandpa’s other sister. Then, my grandma’s second cousin married my grandpa’s third cousin. That left me with a whole lot of double or triple cousins.
#5 Bill In The Band
My grandmother dated Bill Clinton in high school. He had a pretty major crush on her. She broke up with him because he was in the band.
#6 Family Legend Lost At Sea
My great-uncle was accused of arson and ran away to sea, eventually passing in a brawl involving blades in Shanghai (according to the family story). I desperately want to know more about this, but everyone who knew the story is now gone and none of them wanted to talk about it when they were alive anyway. His sister also led a fairly adventurous life but was lost at sea for a while.
#7 First To Be Hit By A Van
My family claims that one of my great-great uncles was the first man in Ireland to get run over by a van. He worked the docks in Cork and supposedly got hit by a freshly delivered one. Probably just a family anecdote, but I enjoy the image of a dude pointing at a van and saying, "What in holy heck is that—"
#8 Cohabitating On The Compound
My family lives on what we call the compound. Essentially, they own continuous plots of land and my dad, grandparents, uncle, and cousin all have houses next to each other. It's great for visiting and we even had our wedding there, on the river. My dad keeps trying to get my husband and me to join them. Nope.
#9 Mortal Until March
My family only passes away in March. Dogs, grandparents, uncles... March.
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#10 Subject Of A Documentary
My aunt was the star of a PBS documentary in the '90s called “The Farmer’s Wife.” It detailed her life living on a small-town farm in Nebraska and being married to a small-minded farmer. Most of my mom’s family appears in the documentary. The filmmakers also asked to film my parents' wedding, which is mentioned in the documentary, but they declined.
I bring this up, but I haven’t actually watched the documentary. There are some tense relationships between my aunt and her now ex-husband, and my mom, who dislikes family drama, likes to pretend that her sister’s first marriage never happened. I know we have a VHS if the documentary somewhere, but I have never actually watched it.
#11 The Dad Donor
We recently found out that I have at least five half-siblings because my parents decided it would be nice (and financially beneficial) for my dad to make some donations around the time I was born.
#12 After All That
I had an ancestor who lied about his age to join up with the Union Army in the American Civil Battle in 1861. He fought in most of its bloodiest battles: Antietam, Shiloh, and Gettysburg to name a few. He survived all of those to come home to the family farm, where he promptly passed of a fever he had picked up in camp.
#13 Jack In The Box
Jack in the Box used to have a clown for the voice box in the drive-thru... until my grandmother got tipsy one night and shot it up after they wouldn't take her order as she walked through.
#14 Adopted Cousins
I placed my newborn for adoption. A few years later, my sister got pregnant and placed her newborn with the same family. So the children are growing up as siblings and they are my cousins by blood.
#15 We Are All Fourth-Generation Paratroopers
I'm a fourth-generation paratrooper. All the men on my father's side up to my great-grandfather have been to and graduated from the army basic airborne school. They're probably among the first groups of people to be fourth-generation paratroopers.
#16 A Classified Ad Wedding
When my great-great-grandfather came to America, he took out an ad in the paper for a bride. My great-great-grandmother met him at the docks and they came across together, took advantage of the Homestead Act, and settled in Nebraska.
#17 Ran Away With The Cook
My great-grandparents moved from Buffalo, New York to St. Pete, Florida and started a hamburger stand that became a small restaurant. One day, my great-grandpa woke up my grandfather at 4 a.m. and said, “Get up. Do you want to be the cook today, or the waiter?” My grandpa was confused and asked what he meant.
“Your mother ran away with the cook last night. Do you want to wait on her tables, or do the cooking?” The restaurant went on to local greatness, and Papa eventually found his mother 30-40 years later. The cook had been a poor choice, apparently, so she shacked up with the guy who did bullwhip tricks in a traveling circus. Papa took care of her financially and visited her until she passed.
#18 Married While Engaged
My parents were married within six weeks of meeting each other, and they were both engaged to other people at the time. Bonus: My mom was a celebrity, and so was her fiance. She retired from show business fairly young; he was on the front-page news the day he passed.
#19 Living Across Centuries
My great-great-grandmother lived in three centuries. She lived until she was 107. My grandfather was also a known bad-guy. The authorities found the evidence they needed (after 30 years of trying) on the day he passed of old age.
#20 It's All In The Name
My family's time to shine... I think it was in 1997 when my uncle was apprehended for the demise of Gianni Versace in Sydney airport because the suspect had the same name as my uncle. They assumed it was him. He was let go after a few hours of dramatic interrogation.
Similarly, my grandmother is on the dangerous persons watchlist of New Zealand because she has the same name as the suspect. She was almost made to leave the country a few years ago when her indefinite leave to remain expired when she left the country on holiday.
#21 The Pattern Of 24
My mom is born on September 24th. My dad is born on March 24th. I am born on May 24th. My parents met on December 24th. My sister is born on June 2nd, but who cares.
#22 Seamstress Skills Saved Her Life
My great-Aunt Rose was able to escape a bad situation due to a member of royalty. After a few months in a camp, she became ill and was left to pass in an “infirmary.” This member of royalty was visiting the camp and saw her. He asked her for her name and her occupation. Rose was an incredibly talented seamstress, and this person needed a tailor at their estate. So they drew up some papers declaring her a Christian, convinced the enemy that they had made a mistake, took her into their estate, nursed her back to health, and she spent the rest of the time creating and fixing clothes for their family.
#23 Deaf Survivor Turned Designer
My grandpa created the symbol for disabled parking spaces. He entered some type of contest, submitted the design and his was selected. However, he didn’t receive credit.
He was also a Holocaust survivor from Poland and was deaf since birth. He was a super interesting guy and always had a story to tell. He passed in February.
#24 The Pianist's Monkey
My great grandfather came over on a boat from Germany with a pet monkey. No one knows how or where he got it. He would often perform on the piano with it perched on his shoulder. One day it went #1 on him, in front of an audience, while he was playing Bach.
#25 Whole Lotta Wisdom In This Family
I have eight wisdom teeth, my dentist said he's never seen anything like it and my dad was the only case for his dentist too.
#26 Green-Eyed Photos
My sons, my dad, my grandfather, and I don't get red-eye with bright flash photos. We get green-eye. Not deep green like a forest, but bright green traffic light. I've asked optometrists about it and we're just weird apparently.
#27 Setting The Abusers Straight
My great-grandmother tried to end my abusive great-grandfather. He lived and turned quite docile. My grandmother, similarly, smashed my grandfather in the head with a frying pan.
#28 A Con Artist Who Likes Champagne
My great-great-grandfather came to America in 1906 when he was 14. He eventually enlisted in the Navy and then became a prohibition enforcer officer. He was doing pretty well for himself until the people above him began to realize he wouldn’t turn in all the bottles he confiscated. He would instead keep cases and consume them alone, which was not permitted and led to him being fired. I believe he served some time for it, all the while he was not a US citizen.
I’m not exactly sure what lead to this, but he eventually became a “tax fix artist” for the mafia and other higher-ups. One thing led to another and he was linked to peddling in the Truman Administration. He was charged with perjury and given a sentence but passed before he actually served any time.
My grandma doesn’t like talking about this scandal or whatever in the family, but I find it interesting and wish I knew more. Funny thing is, his daughter also worked in the Navy during WWII and became a well-respected, high-ranking lieutenant in the department.
#29 Historic Heirlooms
We have a sort of family heirloom, I guess. It’s an old golden ship that was said to have been given by the prince of Portugal or something; I can’t remember exactly what my great-grandmother said. My grandfather picked it up when he participated in a raid. We also have cutlery with a German dictator's name on them. It was never authenticated, but I don’t see a reason my great-grandmother would lie.
#30 Witchy Ancestry
I recently learned that my great-grandmother was Margaret Stevenson, one of the people accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. She was the last person ever hanged in Salem.
#31 Difficult Upbringing
My great-grandma saw her neighbor get beheaded by the propeller of an aircraft during the Japanese occupation, and my grandma grew up living beside a Kempetai camp where she'd hear the sounds of the tortured almost daily.
#32 An Unstoppable Uterus
My mom had my oldest brother and sister, then proceeded to have her tubes tied. She then got pregnant with my older brother. The doctor said it was just a mistake and redid the procedure. She had me less than a year later. Once again, she had them re-tied. Then she had my little brother. She had them snipped, and she had my little brother and little sister. After that, she had a hysterectomy because of ovarian cancer.
#33 The Great Canadian Gold Heist
There’s something from the 1960s called the Great Canadian Gold Heist. I know it sounds like some kind of train hold-up, but the reality is straight out of Grand Theft Auto. Two of my mother’s cousins were in it. Apparently, Air Canada used to (and maybe still does) transport a lot of Canada’s reserve gold by plane. My cousins and Ken Leishman (a.k.a "The Gentleman Bandit") found out when and where Air Canada was about to receive a large load of gold bars from an armored truck. They grabbed a couple of sets of overalls, grabbed an Air Canada invoice off the ticket counter, and waited.
On the day of, they forcibly took an armored truck and drove into the tarmac. After the real armored truck loaded the gold onto the commercial flight, my cousins drove up to the plane and handed the flight crew their false invoice, saying the gold needed to be unloaded immediately for transport to wherever. The flight crew unloaded the gold into the armored truck, and they drove off, plain and simple. Everybody involved got caught, but most of the gold was never recovered. If only my mother had better ties to her cousins...
#34 Turtleneck-Wearing Rebels
My extremely reserved midwestern parents were wild when they were in their 20s and 30s. They pulled elaborate pranks on their friends on tipsy nights. They only met because my mom thought my dad was cute. One night at the races, she chucked a drink at his head to get him to turn around... my turtleneck-wearing mother. And it worked. They laugh about it all the time when I bring it up. Apparently, they didn’t want me to know this side of them when I was younger in fear I’d follow their footsteps.
#35 Family Of Foretelling Dreams
My dad, brother, and I have lucid foretelling dreams. Nothing huge like world-changing events, but little day-to-day stuff. The longest one I've had was three years prior to it happening. My dad's dreams happen day-to-day and they're pretty quick to come to fruition, while my brother's dreams are somewhere in the middle. Mine take years.
#36 Lost Opportunity For Free Tuition
My great-great-grandfather owned the land where the University of the South in Tennessee is located. He donated the land to the people building the college. His main request was that all his future family would go to college free of charge. Unfortunately, the paperwork was either A) burnt down in a courthouse fire or B) lost for all eternity. I have visited the college many times, but unfortunately never attended it.
#37 Family Split In Two
My family made headlines in the 20s due to the tragedy that struck. One day, seven of the fourteen kids decided to all hop into a car to get ice cream. Then it was like: car, meet dump truck. It was the biggest car accident in my country at the time. With half of the family gone, the other half was so distraught that they all left to go to other places.
#38 Off You Go, Sir
My uncle fled Italy because he didn't want to serve. He came here, married my aunt, and lived happily with her for twenty years, knowing that if he went back to Italy, he'd get locked up. He cheated on her two days after she started chemo, so she got him plastered, got him on a "Plane to Tahiti," and after she got on the plane with him, she bailed during the last minute she could, and sent him back to Italy. She notified the government two days prior. We don't know what happened to him, but you can imagine.
#39 The Mafia Name
My mother's maiden name is a known Mafia name in Italy. My great-grandfather was known to be involved in it. He was targeted by a car that jumped the curb, ran over him and sped off while he was leaving a church. Our family has been contacted a couple of times, specifically my uncle when he became a lawyer. He was offered a very high-paying and shady job for a new lawyer and he was told it was because of his name.
My mom was speaking to a chatroom group for Italians. She had been asked what part of Italy her family came from and what her name was. When she mentioned the name she was blocked and banned from the group. That was about 15 years ago or so, so the name carried some weight back then, I don't know about now though.
#40 A Bar Brawl Gone Wrong
My grandfather accidentally ended a man. My papa and his buddies were enlisted but had a night off. They were out having a couple of drinks at a bar when he was flirting with a woman. A fellow didn't like that and confronted my grandpa, but he wasn't having any of it since he didn't want to get in trouble should it get back to anyone at the base.
The guy chased him down outside and decked him, so my grandpa knocked him out. When the guy fell he hit the back of his neck on the curb and snapped his neck. My grandpa said the man lay motionless on the curbside as his own friends tried to shake him awake.
Unfortunately, my papa and his buddies ran away before the authorities arrived. He wrote this in a journal; admitting he should have turned himself in and how much of a coward he was for not doing just that. He lived with the guilt all his life until he passed in '96.
#41 Starting Over In Mexico
My great uncle disappeared after Vietnam. He ended his best friend while playing with a piece when he was a kid and hadn't been the same ever since. Vietnam had made him even more morose and withdrawn, so when he vanished, the family just assumed the worst and figured he had gone AWOL or had passed, one way or another.
Twenty years later, we came to find out he had moved to Mexico and started a family. My grandmother got a call from his teenage daughter, letting us know he had passed. It was stomach cancer. Nobody had any idea. The dude just lit out and severed ties without saying a word. None of us really knew how to feel about it.
#42 The Doctor's Namesake Goes On
Many generations ago, when my great-great-many-greats-grandfather was born, he had trouble breathing and didn't look like he'd survive more than a day. Thankfully, a traveling doctor came through town and my great-great-great-many-greats-grandparents were able to flag him down. The doctor saved my ancestor's life and so in return his parents named him after the doctor, Emile. Ever since, this has been the name given to the eldest son in each generation of my family, alternating between the first name and middle name for well over a century.
#43 Social Security Destiny
My mom's and dad's Social Security Numbers are the same except for the fifth digit, which is only off by one.
#44 Cola Equates To Freedom
The first time my grandmother tried cola was when she was three years old and American troops had just liberated some POW camps in the Philippines. They were parading down the street and handing out tiny bottles of cola to all the kids in the crowd.
#45 Too Close For Comfort
We are weird in that we all completely get along, see each other all the time, and help each other out when needed. I thought we were completely a normal, healthy family until I realized that it is actually not very normal at all to love all your extended family members and get along.