Nine of us sat in this conference room. Nine historians, researchers, and genealogists, plus one reporter. We were digging into the possibility that a very famous descended from people in our local, and since this was our forte, this search for stories and genealogies, we were pretty passionate about the subject.
One of us had studied the report that made this claim and had found some places where we needed to back it up with more evidence. In one spot in particularly, he pointed out that the writers were basing a claim on the recollections of an older woman. “I’m not sure I’m willing to put that much stake in her words,” he said. He was right – her recollections were the lynchpin of this entire.
Yet, still, I bristled a bit, not because he was wrong but because I know how much of my own work relies on these kind of recollections. When I’m researching people of color, particularly people who descend from slaves, often all I have are assumptions. I have to guess how old Lavinia Ann might have been when she had her children because no one recorded her birth on a formal birth certificate. With that assumption, I can search databases for census date and, perhaps, find her children. If I don’t take a guess, though, I’m at a brick wall.
We live in a culture where we want proof of so much – proof of tax returns, proof of citizenship, proof of creation or evolution, proof of love or loyalty or fidelity. And it’s not bad to want proof – it’s reasonable and expected and good in many ways.
But sometimes, there is no proof. Sometimes, we have to take an older woman’s word that she knows her ancestors so that we can make forward and find the story, the truth, and maybe even more facts to support our supposition. Sometimes, research and writing take a little faith.*
When in your research or writing have you had to take something on faith?
*Of course, if we are writing based on assumptions, we MUST indicate this. Otherwise, we are misleading our readers, and this is never acceptable.