Gravestones can contain errors

gravestones can be inaccurateI know this isn’t news to most of you, but the fact that gravestones can contain errors was brought home to me after my mother passed away last month. As I posted at the time, her obituary contained an error, even though I (a professional writer) had written it myself.

Somehow I felt that more care was given to the accuracy of gravestones, since they are, literally, engraved in stone. But I learned otherwise when my father and I went to the cemetery office to make arrangements. The office worker handed me a printout of what the grave marker would look like (it’s the covering for the niche in which her cremated remains were placed) and my mother’s birth date was wrong. She was born May 2, 1933 and the marker proof said May 5, 1933.

I caught it handily and made the correction. And of course it was simple human error. But what if I hadn’t been there and my grieving father hadn’t caught it? The gravestone would have been wrong. I wonder how many times that has happened in generations gone by. I would imagine our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of seeing proofs.

The experience has led me to take less stock in the “proof” that I had thought a gravemarker provided. It’s simply another secondary source that needs to be verified through other means.

It’s a great reminder of why it’s important to have multiple sources for any facts we track down.

Take obituaries with a grain of salt

Take obituaries with a grain of saltMy mother, Betty Sue Brown Adams, died last week.  She was born on May 2, 1933 and died June 17, 2015. It felt very strange to add a death date to her entry in Reunion, my family tree software.

Since I’m a writer, my father asked me to write her obituary. Fortunately, we had had discussions about what she wanted in her obituary, so it was quite easy to write. I wrote it the day after she passed away and submitted to the local paper on June 19. It was published Sunday, June 21.

Yesterday, I was looking at the obituary and realized it contained an error, one that was completely my fault. It wasn’t a big deal–I wrote that she’d been a volunteer at the Blue Mountain Humane Society Gift Shop when in fact she’d been a volunteer at the Blue Mountain Humane Society Thrift Shop. It’s a subtle, but significant difference.

Seeing that error made me realize how easy it is for errors to be introduced into obituaries. I was writing with a clear head, with pre-planned information, into a document that I emailed to the newspaper. And yet an error showed up in print.

Just think how easily errors could be introduced into the obituaries of our ancestors: the writer may or may not have known the deceased person. The person who wrote the obituary may or may not be a good writer. The information may have been hand-entered for typesetting. There are so many ways an obituary can be made inaccurate.

So that’s today’s genealogy take away from my mother’s passing: Take obituaries with a grain of salt.

By the way, I wrote on my organizing blog yesterday about the importance of having the difficult conversation that will help make someone’s death easier for survivors. If you have loved ones near the ends of their lives, I encourage you to check it out.

Third quarter research report

My strategy for focusing my genealogy efforts in 2014At the beginning of 2014, I created a research scheme in which I’d focus on a different branch of my family tree each quarter. First quarter was the Adamses, (my father’s father’s family); second quarter was the Browns (my mother’s father’s family). The third quarter’s focus was on the Rascos, my father’s mother’s family. The final quarter of the year, which just began, I’ll be focusing on the Jeffries (my mother’s mother’s family).

I didn’t plan it this way, but my research schedule has dovetailed nicely with events. In the second quarter, when I was researching the Browns, who lived in Missouri and Nebraska, I paid a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center and also attended the Brown family reunion in western Missouri. Last quarter, when I was researching the Rascos, I took my cemetery research trip and did some library research in the Alabama stomping grounds of the Rascos. I even met a woman at the library who had grown up next to the Rasco homestead!

So in the third quarter I focused what little research time I had on the Rascos (along with members of the Adams family who are buried in cemeteries I visited on the September trip). I’m still processing the information I gathered on that trip, so research on the Rascos will extend into the fourth quarter.

Now that the year is three-quarters over (how did that happen?) I can reflect on the pros and cons of the quarterly scheme:

Pros

  • It helps me stay focused
  • It mitigates frustration a bit by giving me an organized way to shift gears when I hit tough spots
  • It helps a little with the “what should I work on now?” question that sometimes gets in my way
  • It gives me a deadline (and I love a deadline)

Cons

  • It limits the amount of progress I can make on a given line over the course of a year
  • It might stop me from pursuing leads on other lines (but of course I can research whatever I want)
  • If the research on this quarter’s line is frustrating, it discourages me from shifting focus (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing)

I had originally hoped to include organizing my records on a given family in the quarter’s endeavors and I was good about that in the first quarter. I have to admit those efforts have fallen by the wayside in recent months when my organizing business has has been so busy (giving me less genealogy time). I hope to give the quarterly scheme another try in 2015; I think the pros outweigh the cons!

 

Don’t take photo labels at face value

When I was at the Brown family reunion the last weekend in June, I was given a bunch of old family photos that pertained to my branch of the family. Some were duplicates of ones I already had (from the big box of photos my mother gave me). Some I’d never seen before. I was delighted to receive them.

One photo in particular brought home an important lesson: Don’t take the labels on the back of photos as the gospel truth. When a picture has an identifying label I tend to assume that the label is accurate, in the absence of any information to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily the case.

I was given this photo of a little girl.

My mother as a young girl

I know that it’s a photo of my mother, because I’ve seen many photos of my mother as a child. She also recognizes it as a photo of herself. My mother’s name when she was a girl was Betty Sue Brown.

This is what’s written on the back of the photo.

Labels aren't always accurate

My mother’s grandmother was Alice Jeffries. I’m assuming that the label was some sort of direction to share the photo with Alice. But it sure seems like it’s identifying the photo, doesn’t it?

Now, I think most people would assume the girl in the photo isn’t married and therefore isn’t Mrs. Jeffries. But what if the label had said “Alice Jeffries” rather than “Mrs. Jeffries?” Then someone who didn’t know what my mother looked like as a child might assume the little girl in the photo was Alice Jeffries.

This is an important reminder to apply critical thinking when looking at photo labels. Don’t take  them at face value; rather, try to find a few other clues to help verify the accuracy of the label, if you don’t know the people in the photos. In this example, Alice was born in 1885, so the attire in the photo would be a clue that it’s not a photo of her. Taking that extra step might help avoid misidentificaton.