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Resolving Conflicts

Resolving Conflicts

I don’t work on my husband’s side of the family all that much because he has absolutely no interest in genealogy whatsoever but he does tolerate my obsession with it so I guess that’s something. I decided to work on his family a bit and he told me that his great-uncle Jimmy died in a car wreck. He said he remembers it clearly. I found Jimmy’s obituary and this is what it says:

James W. Young
APPLING, Ga. - James William Young, 69, died in an Augusta hospital Sunday after an extended illness
[emphasis mine]. Funeral services will be conducted at Lewis Memorial Methodist Church in Columbia County Wednesday at 3 p.m. with the Rev. Robert Boyd officiating assisted by the Rev. W.L. Buffington. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. Young was a native of Columbia County. He was retired and a member of the Hollow Creek Baptist Church in Aiken, S.C. Survivors include one sister, Mrs. G. S. Lewis, Martinez and a number of nieces and nephews.[1]

Well that posed a bit of a problem. There is a big difference between dying in a car wreck and dying after an extended illness. My husband was a kid at the time so maybe he remembered it wrong. I ordered Jimmy’s death certificate to find out.

James William Young Death Certificate [2]

Well there you go. My non-genealogist husband did remember the events correctly. No clue why the paper got it wrong. This is why we do exhaustive (re)search and we resolve conflicts. I knew that Jimmy Young would have death certificate so there was no reason for me not to obtain it. It would have been a mistake for me to automatically believe the newspaper over my husband just because the newspaper is more "official." 

[1] "James W. Young," The Augusta Chronicle, 06 December 1966, p. 5, col. 2. 

[2] Georgia Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 37828 (1966), James William Young; State Vital Records, Atlanta.  

Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


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Good point and something we all need to remember.

Obituaries are almost always written by the family - and while they MAY be true - they may also be a list of falsehoods that makes the family feel better about their relative.

An example - in the 80's in the height of the AIDS crisis, most AIDS death will NOT be listed that way in an obituary because - after an extended illness does not have the implication about a persons sex life that "died from AIDS" does - even though it never should have implied that.

While obituaries can be a great source for family tree information, it is not always correct either. The same being true for anything other than DEATH information on a DEATH certificate. Just because it says the parents were xyz and they were born on and in - don't buy it at face value. If I had a dollar for every relative that shaved a year or two off their ages (or in a couple of cases ADDED years), that would be very sweet indeed. And of course, the respondent on a death certificate may not REALLY KNOW the family even .... While the death information is probably correct and trustworthy - MOST OF THE TIME - it is all subject to interpretation and reading between the lines.

Perhaps he was sick for a long time before the car crash.

I have used findings from historic newspapers to help confirm, and/or to add detail to handed down family lore stories. I have also found information in books, news articles, or other documentation that dramatically alters some family lore stories. One story in particular, I believe, was inaccurate not because the family lore stories were substantially wrong, but because a lot of important facts and detail had been left out. I explain that it was because those recalling the stories -- my aunts -- were young pre-teens when the events happened, or when they heard the story, and just never knew those other details. Their versions went from point A to point B, but left out years of critical places and events in between.

And that is why you always need to consider who the informant was. There are three aspects, Source, Informant, Evidence. You can categorize everything using this format and it will help you weigh your evidence. Here is some additional information I think you will find helpful:

It is always good to formulate different scenarios like what you have done. You could try and find evidence that could answer that question. You then look at the totality of sources to see which of your theories you can support. For example, are the medical records still available and would you have access to them? You can also mention alternative scenarios in your narrative if there are viable theories that you haven't been able to confirm or discount.

You did something that is important, you explained WHY (your theories) this information was inaccurate.

Michele Lewis,
I can add another possibility, from a wreck I was in years ago. My liver "exploded" but they didn't find it in the hospital (one day). A week later I was getting weak and couldn't eat so went to doctor. After an emergency operation it was found the damage, and they took out part of my liver, but I had lost a lot of blood inside so needed transfusions.
It is 40 years later and I owe my life to that doctor.
So depending how much damage... his liver could be bleeding slowly and he live a week or more. To a grieving family member that could be "an extended illness" when they wrote the Obit.

Patsy Reading

Your ordeal sounds horrific! The only problem in this case that the wreck was at 8:13 AM on 03 Dec 1966 and he died 6:50 am on 04 Dec 1966 which is less than 24 hours.

I have worked in a family run cemetery in central Wisconsin for over 50 years now and have seen some very interesting obituaries over the years. Many families do not want other family members, friends, or individuals from the persons past; (old boy or girl friends neighbors) to know the real information so the obituaries reflect only what is suppose to be public record. Now most of the obituaries are digital so they are not retyped, previously funeral homes had a preset form that was filled in when arrangements were made and if it was not proof read after information from a previous funeral was left in the form making more mistakes possible. Once the paper received the information it was retyped to be printed and again more errors are possible if not checked or the previous information was not removed. Human error is often the main cause in the misprints.

Good work Michele. One more reason to find source documents and NOT rely on transcriptions. Is your hubby doing the happy dance "I told you so!"? :-)

I wouldn't have doubted him to begin with. After all, he was there.

I would also note in the "research" page on Legacy that two sources gave conflicting statements. You're lucky you were able to order the death certificate which verified what you had read. Well done,

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