Monday, September 19, 2011

Who Furnished That Information?

In order to evaluate information, it is important to know who provided that information. Often we can only guess who the source of a particular piece of information might have been. Was it someone who knew the information from firsthand experience? Was it someone who had heard the information passed on orally?

Many original death certificates list the "informant" or the person who was interviewed by the funeral home staff to begin the paper trail that eventually became the official death certificate. This knowledge is helpful in evaluating each separate piece of information on such certificates. Too often researchers do not dig deep enough to find from whom the information came.

In evaluating census information it would be useful to know who provided the information to the census taker. Was it the head of household, the house keeper, a child, a neighbor or someone else? We generally assume it was a member of the household; but was that the case? If the census taker found no one at home and didn't want to have to return, was a neighbor queried? Generally in the past we have not been told who was the source of the family information that was recorded in the census.

In the manual for enumerators of the 1940 US Census, instructions were given to list the following:

Name of each person whose usual place of residence on April 1, 1940, was in this household. Be sure to include:

  • Persons temporarily absent from household. Write “Ab” after names of such persons.
  • Children under 1 year of age. Write “Infant” if child has not been given a first name.
  • Enter “X” after name of person furnishing information.
Bulleted items 1 and 3 above are going to be new to most of us. Both will be useful. Item 3 will be especially useful in evaluating the credibility of each piece of information about each family member. Did the "person furnishing information" know that information firsthand? Now we will have to wait with bated breath to see with what frequency enumerators entered "X" next to a name in the records of each family.

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