Using Newspapers: Corroboration is Key (Part 2)

Last time we examined the obituary, death certificate, and birth record for Martha Meeker. Her obituary and death certificate both provided her parents’ names as Mahlon Meeker and Mary Baughman. However, further searches could not locate that couple. After accessing her birth record, we discovered her parents were actually Lafayette Meeker and Phylinda Baughman.

So, who is at fault for this error that sent me down the wrong research path for quite some time back in 2001 when I worked this project? Look no further than the informant on the death certificate:

Martha Meeler Dimick, death certificate, number 030044 (1970), State of Tennessee, Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Nashville.

Who was Gerald Dimick? He was Martha’s third child. He was only two months old when his grandfather Lafayette Meeker died. AND his grandmother Phylinda Baughman died 22 years before he was born! Did Gerald have good first-hand knowledge of who his mother’s parents were? No. He only had second-hand information. He was dependent on what he had heard as a child growing up. Not to mention the stress a family is under when a loved one dies and a funeral has to be arranged. That can mess with anyone’s memory.

This is why corroboration is key to genealogical research. You can’t just get one document, one vital record (and in this case two) and call it a day. Genealogists should strive to find a record that is A) independently created and B) as close to the time of the event that it is reporting as possible. Obituaries and death certificates often have the same informant (though not always, there are times and reasons why this is not the case). And a death certificate is not a record close in time to find birth information. Always strive to find one closer in time.

When using newspapers, always attempt to find other records to back up the information you find. Information from sources needs to agree or you have to resolve the conflicts they’ve created. In the example above, that was done by examining the informant on the death certificate, finding the birth record, and discussing why Gerald would not have been a good informant to report on his grandparents’ identities. Corroboration in records and the information they contain is key to making solid claims in your genealogical research.

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