Saturday, September 20, 2014

Assumptions: Documents are a Snapshot in Time

Second in a series of posts.

A discussion of assumptions one might be tempted to make. With examples taken from my own research.

Assumption: Documentation that an individual lived somewhere in time indicates they lived there before or after that moment in time.

Every document is a snapshot in time. Except in rare occasions, they don't tell you what happened before or after that snapshot.

Below are entries from the St. Louis City Directory for my grandmother, Myrtle Van Every

•1921 - Astor Hotel
•1921 - 4528a Enright
•1922 - Westgate Hotel
•1922 - 4123 Westminster
•1923 - 4515 Washington
•1924 - 5630 Delmar
•1925 - 5540 Pershing
•1926 - 4506 Forest Park
•1927 - 4545 Washington
•1928 - 5707 McPherson apt 111
•1928 - 5656 Kingsbury apt 203
•1930 - Georgiana Court Apartments, 5660 Kingsbury, apt 203, St. Louis, MO (census - ED 169 - Sheet 1B)

She moved around a lot, but she remained in St. Louis. She doesn't appear in the 1929 directory, but not appearing in a particular directory isn't uncommon. I can imagine many genealogists, of varying experience levels, stating as fact that she lived in St. Louis continually from 1921 to 1930, citing the St. Louis City Directories and the 1930 census as evidence.

And there's nothing wrong with that, except for using the word 'fact.'

In April of 1927 my grandmother married in Oakland, California. In October of 1927 she divorced her husband, and returned to St. Louis. She didn't miss appearing in the 1927 directory. She appeared in the 1928 directory under her maiden name, and her married name. She did appear in the 1929 directory, but only under her married name. She returned to her maiden name by the census in 1930.

Remember: Every document is a snapshot in time. Be open to learning something important happened between two snapshots.

1 comment:

Travis LeMaster said...

Great reminder to never assume someone's residence in a particular place was a constant.