“Slip of the Tongue” Evidence: Misinformation and Your Genealogy

Some misinformation may be a slip of the tongue given in times of extreme grief or even happy confusion—such as the grandmother’s maiden name instead of the mother’s maiden name on a death certificate or the place of residence for the birth place on a census or marriage application.

Facts that become common knowledge or “local truth” to residents in small localities are often taken for granted and thus not passed on to succeeding generations.

Truth can be a relative term, highly subjective in context, yet truth nonetheless. In a perceptive article, “Folklore and the Historian,”(Louisiana History 26 (Spring 1985): 141-54). Carl Lindahl discusses the issue of truth in folklore terms. What often appears to be misinformation, ignorance, or deceit is often truth as a particular culture knows it. And concealed within that truth are clues that can open your research to further study.

For example, Lindahl quotes Dennis McGee (interview 8 July 1981) as saying: “McGee, that’s a French name. I don’t know anyone named McGee who doesn’t speak French.” McGee is telling the truth as he knows it. His distant Scottish ancestry slips into the background in Louisiana culture and his own birth supplies truth he shares—everyone named McGee in his community is French: they speak French, they live according to Cajun customs. Lindahl concludes that even suspect folk information holds germs of real truth.

What appears to us as inaccurate data is actually truth connected to the family. It becomes a part of the family store of knowledge. If you accept it as such and corroborate all you find with sources generated from a variety of perspectives, you will come closer to actual truth as you compile your lineage. This is perhaps the best argument for documenting thoroughly the information you discover. For documented data can be mixed, matched, or discarded as reality emerges.

Stay tuned as other aspects of evidence are presented for your comparison with what you encounter as you research your family, your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com

PS Tune in next time for evidence in equity and Chancery Cases–you will be surprised at the variety of places wills are recorded.

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