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I like to include obituaries and newspaper articles within my descendancy reports printed for other family members. Often the obituaries have small errors, like wrong town of birth, or year of immigration is off a year. People most often contact me when a name is misspelled, and I say "that was the way it was published". Should I say that, or simply correct it? Normally, I like to leave them as they appeared, But lately, I've taken to adding notations, such as below:

  1. Survived by two sisters, Mrs. Kittel [Keitel] of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Mrs. Morse [Morris] of Brownsville, Texas

  2. Survived by .... and 2 grandchildren. [Note: John had 22 grandchildren at the time of his death.]

If an obit or article has a paragraph which is totally false or inaccurate, and I omit it for posterity's sake, should I also omit the source citation, as it is a different article now?

How do others deal with these issues?

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3 Answers

I record the literal evidence as a note. I record the data fields (meaning name, place, date fields, etc) the way I believe them to be true, and I add comments to explain any differences.

If I have no good reason to believe one version of a fact over another, I will record them all in fields (e.g., GEDCOM allows there to be multiple NAMEs, multiple BIRTs, etc.), using the rule that the fact I want to see on displays will be the first in the data record.

This allows you to do things like:

1 NAME Mary /Kittel/
   2 SOUR ... source of this spelling ...
   2 NOTE I prefer this spelling because ...
1 NAME Mary /Keitel/
  2 SOUR ... source of this spelling ...
1 BIRT
  2 DATE February or March 1876
  2 SOUR My conclusion
  2 NOTE There is disagreement in the records concerning her birth ...
1 BIRT
  2 DATE 13 February 1876
  2 SOUR Marriage record.
  2 NOTE This is the date given on her marriage record with John Doe.
1 BIRT
  1 DATE 13 March 1876
  2 SOUR Grave marker.
  2 NOTE This is the date engraved on her grave marker.
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Fresh start.

The possibility of error exists about the information in/content of all historical records. It is at least in part the reason to conduct an exhaustive search, hoping to locate information that is in conflict. Once a conflict has been identified and documented, I conduct research and apply logic and reasoning to resolve the conflict and assess its importance.

You are inquiring specifically about the content of [published] obituaries that you transcribe into your family file.

  1. First things first. Anytime you quote someone else, consider your scholarly and legal obligation to accurately represent and attribute their work. So, I start there--as much as possible, I prefer to quote material directly, warts and all.
  2. Faithful transcription in hand, work to understand the information it provides in the context of your common knowledge and other sources. Common knowledge concerns things like mis-spelled words that result from an editors error or oversight. Often even those misspellings add a little character to the materials and don't need to be altered. The spelling of proper names, though, is less likely to be a misspelling that wasn't caught by the editor--it might be (a) another variant (correct or not) of the same name (Kittel vs Keitel) or (b) a changed name/different or confused person (Morse vs Morris). In a historical context, my logic would rely on other sources of information to determine whether it was a name variant or a changed name/confused or different person. (This is a process of resolving conflicts.)
  3. Given your understanding (and documentation), then decide how to best present that information to others. When quoting material, you have the option of using editorial brackets to add/change or notate items within the quote. Many people use "[sic]" to call attention to what might be an error. See Wikipedia, Sic. This notation, sic, is Latin and has the meaning, "thus it was written." (For those of us who don't read Latin, it can also mean "Don't blame me, I didn't do it.")

These various points are easier to answer in context.

The Genealogy.SE question about Marie (Horjas) Kuchar is a real life example of an obituary for Mildred Weber which raises spelling and name/identity issues.

  • As to Maria's full maiden name, we were not able to locate earlier "official" documents such as her birth and marriage record. About her surname, we were able to locate what seem the death records of her mother and father. The man who seemed to be Maria/e's brother was the informant on the father's death certificate--both their surnames had been spelled "Horejs." As to her given name, we found sources that referred to her as both Marie and Maria.
  • The obituary for Mildred (Kuchar) Weber referred to "her ... sister, Laverne Weber." When we inquired if two sisters had married Weber men, Luke wrote, "I could ask the living siblings the next time I see them. I think it is an error, but I don't really know."
  • While we were not asked, the obituary makes reference to "19 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren." Errors in such tallies have surely been made over the years, and, as suggested by your example, editor error and oversight have surely occurred.

As with the Weber obituary, information is subject to error and the certainty with which we assess the information is not nearly so black and white as we would like it to be.

Using the Weber obit:

  1. In my family file profile of Mildred (Kuchar) Weber, I would quote her obituary as it was presented, warts and all.
  2. In the profile about Mildred's sister, Laverne, if I didn't know that she had been married to a Weber, then I would notice the conflict by creating an entry/tag/pfact in which I would describe the problem; I would source the obituary.
  3. In the profile about Marie (Horjas) Kuchar, I would create alternate spellings for her surname; to the spelling Horjas, I would source the reference in Mildred's obituary. It's probably a coin toss whether I would create alternate spellings for "Marie" vs "Maria."

One final thought. Having learned the hard way, I prefer not to "editorialize" within the body of quoted materials. I think it detracts from the readability of the entry. If I felt that was necessary, I would probably opt not to create a block quote for the obit. Instead, to write about it and incorporate select quoted phrases from the obituary.

P.S. For family historians, there are probably more issues to the notion of "perpetuating errors." This is in part because some of the information we record and share we have yet to prove (indeed, some we may never prove). I'm working on a question along those lines.

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I thought of using [sic], but that only tells other family researchers that I consider it wrong. It doesn't give them a means to further research these sisters, if so desired. –  Rusty Erpenbeck Nov 13 '12 at 2:38
    
Will edit my answer now to add the notion of "certainty." In all cases, though, I have the option of commenting in the reference note. –  GeneJ Nov 13 '12 at 2:42
    
The tally of the descendants is correct (I myself am one of the 40). –  American Luke Nov 14 '12 at 3:37
    
@Luke, :-) How cool is that! I didn't mean to suggest the tally in Mildred's obituary was incorrect. In the example Rusty gave, one infers there is a mistake. (And, I'm sure there have been many errors over the years in such tallies.) –  GeneJ Nov 14 '12 at 3:40
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Why not keep two, or even three, versions of the record about which you have concerns?

An image will show the document just as you encountered it, a "faithful" transcript will provide readers with the text as it was written (warts and all), an annotated transcript offers the opportunity for you to include corrections and references to the other evidence that you believe justifies the changes.

You could include the annotations in the body of the document (marked off suitable identifying characters) as footnotes or en d-notes, or as marginalia -- whichever is appropriate to your needs. Combine all three representations of the evidence in a multi-page document behind a cover sheet that explains clearly what follows and how the parts are inter-related.

How you incorporate this document into your database will depend upon the software that you choose.

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