27 August 2010

Verifying Sources of Information

I was at the Oklahoma History Center this afternoon entering info into my Oklahoma Death Index to 1920. It must be the teacher in me, but I always seem to hear or register the conversations that go on around me. I overheard a man mention to one of the workers that he was looking for a man name Alonzo Drew. For some reason that sounded familiar. He then stated something about Logan County.

So I went up and "peeked" at the document they were discussing- the 1910 census of South Cimarron Twp., Logan County OK. On it were Alonzo Drew, his wife Maude and two children including a son Roy. I then went back to my computer and clicked on the A-E section of my database. Lo and Behold, there was Allonzo Drew (note spelling of given name) born 1874 and died 16 Apr 1911. I went up to the researcher and asked him if he new the man he was looking for was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Logan County. He proceeded to hem and haw about two Pleasant Hill Cemeteries, one north of Meridian being overgrown and unable to find the stone.

I then went back to my computer to check my source of information (I type in the source for EVERY entry)- it was the tombstone. I had visited the cemetery in the early 1980s during my big time "cemeterying" years. He came over to me and showed me the death certificate (he hadn't told us he had one) for J.A. Smith born 1851 who died in Logan County on 15 Apr 1911. The man buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery couldn't possibly be his ancestor! I pointed out that the tombstone had the birth year as 1874, the same as the 1910 census. But the informant for the death certificate was the wife! So the man in Pleasant Hill Cemetery couldn't be the man he was looking for.

I pointed out that the man in question most likely would not have given the information for the tombstone or the death certificate. He had it in his mind that 1851 was the correct birth year, despite preponderance of evidence. He then stated he had seen the tombstone....from a picture on-line.

The point of all this: consider ALL the evidence available. Keep looking for more. Trust, to a certain extent, the experts from the area. DON"T assume family tradition is correct- it rarely is (in entirety).

The researcher left the library disappointed with his experience. If only he would have considered the possibilities. Differences in name usage (Alonzo, Joseph, J.A.), differences in death day (15 or 16), differences in birth year (1851 or 1874); and differences in sources (death certificate from 1911; 1910 census, tombstone inscription).

What would you have done? Which source(s) do you think are most reliable? What further avenues does the research (presented above) bring to mind? What strategies could you use to track down Joseph Alonzo Smith on the 1900 census?

Good luck with your OWN research. Just remember, keep your mind open to different possibilities!

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