Discerning Fake News – Family History Style

fake newsThe thing that interests me most about family history is the gap between the things we think we know about our families and the realities.
– Jeremy Hardy
In a recent post about a circa 1907 family reunion on the Rightmeier homestead in Jewell County, Kansas, I mentioned a great great uncle, August, we had lost track of.  He was one of my great great grandfather’s older brothers with whom he stowed away on a ship in order to immigrate to America from northern Germany.
A friend and reader of this BLOG who has a gift for finding information on the Internet decided to poke around for me.  I was humbled that she took time to do this.  I found an 1880 census record of Uncle August on Ancestry that put him working as a “clerk in a store” in  Pocahontas, Bond, Illinois.  We currently subscribe to only the US portion of Ancestry, but my friend has the global version.
Avoiding Making Fake News
She found all kinds of neat stuff that opened up all manner of “filling in the blanks”.  I wrote a great BLOG about it, even contacted a couple of family members about it. Using  my version of Ancestry to find more details, I filled in a few more gaps.  Once done, I decided to update my family tree maker in preparation to build a tree on ancestry with all this found information.  And then I realized that the August Rehtmeyer that worked as a clerk in a store was not MY uncle August.  Opps, that pesky reality, Truth, was about to mess up all my work.

I thought I had verified all the known data, including birth place, date and age.  It is true, that this man was from the same region, Lippe, Germany as my ancestor.  The name spelling was different but easily explained since the German surname Regetmeier had made a couple of evolutions on spelling even in our branch of the family.  Between the levels of literacy, accents and the manual way in which records were kept, name mis-spellings occurred.
I thought I had compared the date of birth but somehow had a brain cramp and was off, ahem, a mere 20 years.  I had confused the date of birth of this August with the time my Uncle August become a citizen. So although my friend found all kinds of good information on August G, it was not for my Uncle Konrad August.   I had managed to play a game of “telephone” with myself!
Lessons Learned To Avoid Fake News
  • This exercise did give me some experience using Ancestry.  It is stunning that I was able to piece together the story of a branch of a family tree, even if it was not mine.  I may still publish the BLOG.
  • Check and recheck known facts.  This is good advise for all of us in the world we live in today.  It would be nice if the news media would return to this instead of pressing deadlines to grab market share.
  • Use the expertise of others.  There are a couple of relatives who have already done work on Ancestry and Family Tree Maker.  I had not checked those out along the way.  Shame on me.

They already had found my Uncle August but the information had not migrated to my part of the family.  I will be sharing that soon.  In the end, it was the work of a first cousin twice removed, that saved me from putting out misinformation.  Thank you Cousin Al!

The Joy Of Discovery

I was surprised at how excited I was as I discovered the bits and pieces of this other family.  I find it curious at how visceral this can be.  It is not a matter of discovering something that validates my life or who I am.  It is rather a sense of connecting the dots that lay somewhere within.  I can see how all kinds of belief systems come our of this sense of history.  It calls to us from within.  As a Christian, I know Who this is, my Creator and Redeemer.  His creation is connected, no matter how twisted of times we live in.

NOTE TO SELF
Beware of fake news of all kinds, especially that of your own making.  That is my lesson of the week!
Have you had a moment when truth stopped you cold?  I dare you to share it in the comments!  Don’t forget to subscribe!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.