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Don’t Trust Everything You Read

July 26, 2017

My grandparents’ death records are a great example of how you cannot always rely on any one official document.

They died in a plane crash. State Troopers in Wyoming had to put together biographical information for death records based on wallet contents and personal letters scattered in the debris.

The result was less than perfect. My grandfather’s death record gets the names of both his father and his wife wrong, while my grandmother’s death registration gets her birthplace wrong.

The Troopers clearly did their best under tough circumstances, but if you look at birth and marriage registrations, censuses, and voter records, you can see where they went wrong.

Humans are only fallible, and you may need to base biography on more than one record, especially where it runs against what you know from oral history.

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