Friday, February 4, 2011

Sometimes They Lie

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Sometimes They Lie


The National Archives recently revealed that a noted Lincoln scholar jump-started his career by changing the date on a pardon signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Thomas Lowry changed the date from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865. The new date suggested that Lowry had discovered the last document Lincoln ever signed previous to his assassination.

We don’t like to think that anyone can be dishonest. But sometimes original records are tampered with. You must follow genealogical best practices: Always find multiple sources evidencing a conclusion. Always investigate dissenting evidence. Because sometimes records say the darnedest things.

For more information, see:


  1. Ancestry is creating a lot of "lies" on family trees by mislabeling data from the Social Security Death Index.

    They call the "Last Residence" the place of death. It may be the same, but often is not. I don't trust anyone's place of death unless they have some other source besides the SSDI. And of course there are a lot of entries without any source.

  2. AI, it is always good to remind researchers to check an original record carefully. In this case it was not the record that lied, but the alteration.

    As for Anonymous' comment on's handling of its extracts from the Social Security Deaths Index, that organization is quite prone to interjecting items into what it calls 'the record' (its purported summary or extract) that were not in the original. But the same can be said of a great variety of abstracts and summaries. Again, a look at the original is crucial.

    Yet a great many records in their 'original' state do report errors, whether deliberate falsehoods or the result of faulty knowledge or memory on the part of an informant.

    As you said, AI, careful examination of original documents as well as exploration of surrounding data are always important.

  3. Dear SSDI,

    This was true 6 or 7 years ago, but not any longer. They even correctly distinguish Last Residence and Last Benefit.

    If there is somewhere that they still label it wrong, let me know.

    -- The Insider

  4. AI, re: SSDI on -- it is true that in the index the location of either last residence or last benefit is identified. However, when a user goes to attach the record citation to a tree, the format specifies "place of death" usually in truncated form (omitting town, township, etc.).


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