There are essentially six types of “information” in my book. Now I am not a lawyer, I do not pretend to be a lawyer, I am not a graduate of a law school, I am not licensed to give legal evidence. You would look to Judy Russell’s blog, The Legal Genealogist, for that information.
My take on these rules, simplified, fall into the following definitions:
- True information. And there is sound evidence that it is true. Verified primary source material.
- Partially true. There is evidence that it is true, but sometimes that evidence needs to be verified for its own sake.
- Mostly true. This is the type of information that is based on fact, but the details are modified by adjectives of aggrandizement. John Smith was a farmer, TRUE, according to census records, contemporary news accounts, court records and his journal. BUT ” John Smith had the bestest farm in Columbia County, Pennsylvania?” Well, how do we define bestest? You can’t. It may have been a “nice” farm, but even that is a value judgement. And value judgements aren’t evidence unless there is an established way to measure them. So this “bestest” is nice, but it isn’t proof of anything.
- Mostly untrue. Most family legends have a thread of truth. It can be a be a loose thread, but there is a thread, never the less, that can be either be cut out, or followed to the real story. Think about cutting through whale blubber with embroidery scissors to get to the point. There may be something there, but if its hiding under all that fat…?
- Patently false. Not a bit of truth about it (“Lord Smitherines was born in 1650 and died at the end of the 16the Century) – and –
- Oh, Hell, no way. Something so far off the charts that only the stupid, the uninformed the crazy will believe it. Like my great aunt who used to insist that my Grandmother’s family descended from “the great Kings of Roman Lithuania.” Or the woman who stood up at one of my sessions I taught in Ohio and announced that “I have my family tree all the way to Adam and Eve.” Really? Really? Really. If your common sense alarm goes off, call bullshit if you must.
Now some people confused “contemporary” information, that is to say information from the time period that the person or person(s) lived in to be “True Information” because looks like “primary source information”.
Only one thing is true about information that is contemporary to the subject – and that is that it is, at face value, contemporary to the subject. Contemporary information, such as “established” magazines and “esteemed” journals (non-professional) can fall into to that “Mostly true” category. Let us look at this example, from The American Monthly Magazine, published by the Daughters of the American Revolution, January – June, 1909.
Lets look at the article with the highlighting, which is an announcement on Mrs. Elizabeth Dey Clark Little, the surviving daughter of Revolutionary War veteran Sargent Israel Clark. Israel Clark’s line is well documented in the 17th century, and Israel Clark did his best to ensure that his line would continue, marrying four times, widowed three, and fathering fourteen children during his life. The Youngest, Elizabeth, being born when her father was approximately 62. Elizabeth’s middle name “Dey” is her mother Margaret’s middle name. Elizabeth died on October 27, 1908. There is no standardized Ohio Death Certificate for Elizabeth because the county didn’t start recording the form, which was mandatory beginning in 1909 in all 88 counties until December, 1908. We are pretty sure that she died in Marion, Marion County, Ohio because the local paper, The Marion Star, ran her death notice stating that she died at the home of her daughter Mary Little McPherson, on Leader Street in Marion. And we know that in 1908, the McPherson’s lived on Leader Street, near West Fairground Street, then the Garden City Pike, in Marion, Ohio, based on city directories. So we have no real evidence of her birth, or her death other than what we can get off of her death notice. We can send away for a copy of her DAR paperwork to see what it tells us as well.
But there is the another problem with this article, which was probably submitted by the Findlay (Ohio) Chapter to the DAR for its magazine. And it contains one sentence that no one seemed to catch that contradicts one of the article’s main assertions. Go back and see if you can find it.
Did you find it?
Yes? No? Huh?
Well here it is: “Mrs. Little came to Ohio at the age of eight years.”
Did you just have a “Hello? Mom, it’s Conflict on the telephone, and it says it has done something…” moment, right?
The conflict is that somewhere after she was born in Ohio (“…and was born in Delaware County, Ohio, March 16, 1819.”) this article would lead you to believe that she came to Ohio in 1827 for the first time.
How can this be? It’s can’t. People simply didn’t capriciously travel in 1819. And if it were true, where did she go, and why?
And I should note that Marion County, Ohio, where Israel settled for the remainder of his life, was “erected” (Yes, that is the proper term) from Delaware County, Ohio in 1821. So she quite possibly could have been born in what is now Marion County, instead of what is now Delaware County proper.
But it does tell us that we can’t build a conclusive case with this article alone, even though it comes from a respected source, and just because it is a contemporary source to the subject.
What we need to find is either a definitive document – for 1819 that would be a letter, or a family bible entry, or a journal entry or some other type of sworn instrument that could resolve this conflict.
So when Conflict arises, it means rather than just ignoring it, it wants to be recognized, and resolved.