In 1933 a man named Franklin Bearce wrote a manuscript entitled "Who our forefathers really were, a true narrative of our white and Indian ancesters [sic]." In this manuscript he claimed that his direct ancestor, Austin or Augustine Bearse had been a gypsy and come to the Plymouth Colony and married an Indian princess named Little Dove or Mary Hyanno. She was the daughter of Massasoit.
In 1938, the eminent genealogist, Donald Lines Jacobus, wrote an article rebutting this claim. A war of word ensued, little noticed by the world. Now in the age of the Internet, this controversy is back. Many Bearse descendants believe in the Indian myth and many (most?) don't. If you do a search in google for "Austin Bearse" you get 966 hits. "Austin Bearse" and Hyanno yields 316 or 33%. Likewise "Augustine Bearse" by itself has 661 hits and with Hyanno 297 (45%). So all totals thats 1627 without and 613 hits with Hyanno or roughly 38% of all Internet mentions of Austin Bearse have the Indian legend.
I happen to be a Bearse descendant myself, so I'm interested in this matter. I don't believe the myth. However, a recent Harvard paper available at SSRN (a subscription service) by Sunstein, Cass R. and Vermeule, Adrian, "Conspiracy Theories" (January 22, 2008). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-03, looks at such things in the public sphere. I've always found it mind-boggling that the public at large believes conspiracies about AIDS, 9-11, and the Kennedy Assassination all which have been refuted. The Indian ancestry of the Bearse family is eerily similar. Here's the abstract of Sunstein and Vermeule's paper:
Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event. A recent example is the belief, widespread in some parts of the world, that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out not by Al Qaeda, but by Israel or the United States. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.