Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just the facts, ma'am

Way back in my early college years (circa 1970) while studying journalism, the importance of getting our facts correct was emphasized over and over again. You must get dates, you must get ages, you must get correct spellings - that was drummed into our heads over and over again. And if you didn't get a fact correct? Your punishment was to write an obituary on a currently living public official. This was when I first learned that newspapers and television stations kept all of this information constantly updated so when the person died, they were ready to go with the death notice with all of the pertinent facts already in hand. After being assigned to write three obituaries the first week, I made up my mind that it was never going to happen again and I became a dedicated fact checker and spelling checker.

As I go through various public records, newspaper articles and other resources in researching my family history, I discover that not everyone was so thorough in their fact checking. Names are misspelled, dates are not correct, family relationships are inaccurate. This makes the work of the family historian all the more challenging. One has to take a look at what was recorded and attempt to make as much sense of it as possible - constantly speculating, making inferences, eliminating alternate possibilities. I suppose that is what makes this hobby so addictive. You are always looking for just one more fact, one more piece of information.

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