Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Fact-Checking Books and Other Published Sources

I recently read a blog post that concerned one of my ancestral towns in North Mississippi. In the post, the author cited a published book on the town's history. Unfortunately many persons with answers who lived in the town (now a ghost town) raised concerns about the information in the book as they first read it. My paternal grandmother was one of those persons who could tell you everything about everyone and how they were related, but she could also tell you about area history. My dad and my mom both commented "that's wrong" several times as they read the book. I read an excerpt to someone else who was familiar with the area's history who also made comments about errors in the book. None of these then living individuals ever resided in the town of Cotton Gin Port, but their grandparents did. They had heard stories all their lives. I found things where evidence did not add up as well. While I still own and consult the source, I treat it with skepticism and try to find other sources to back up the author's conclusions.

When the blog (which I'm hoping has been removed due to the erroneous information) stated that the area was part of Marion County in Alabama until the state line was surveyed in 1821, I knew the author had not fact-checked and had accepted the information.

Why? I had ancestors living in Cotton Gin Port at the time, and I knew they were enumerated in Monroe County, Mississippi, and not in the Alabama Territory as the statement on the blog about the area's history would lead the reader to believe. I took the name of the "first settler" mentioned in the blog post, plugged it into the 1820 census search, and found him in Monroe County, Mississippi, not in Alabama Territory.

I am sometimes guilty of accepting too much that is published in local histories of towns and such as "facts" without verifying the sources. I sometimes accept the information as true, even when I know they sometimes contain errors. This means I need to go back and locate other sources that support the information contained in them. In some cases, I found documents such as city directories, Fire Insurance maps, and deeds to support the book's information. In other cases, I just assumed those were available without really checking. This means I'll probably be generating a longer "to do" list on some of the old research I'm reviewing.

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