Monday, 30 January 2012

Check your sources

The other day, I received an email from a friend and collegue now retired and living in the beautiful Canadian city of Belleville ON. Knowing genealogy is one of my favorite subjects, he apparently felt I should read about how one can manipulate the truth. The email reads as follows:

Judy Wallman, a professional genealogy researcher in southern California, was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Senator Harry Reid's great-great uncle, Remus Reid, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. Both Judy and Harry Reid share this common ancestor.
The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows in Montana territory:

On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription: 'Remus Reid, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.'

So Judy recently e-mailed Senator Harry Reid for information about their great-great uncle.
Senator Harry Reid
Believe it or not, Harry Reid's staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

"Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana  railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."

NOW THAT's how it's done, Folks!

After reading it, I thought Harry Reid's staff indeed did a splendid job in brushing up the Remus biography. Somewhere in the email it says "believe it or not". If you start checking who Judy Wallman is, you soon find out that the above quoted word "not" is the operative part of the term. If you google Judy's and Harry's names, the word 'urban legend' pops up. A.o. see this site. Then it quickly dawns on you, the story is just not true! 
The same narrative is told about Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and many others for years. Therefor, always check your sources. 
And Judy Wallman, the California researcher? Well, I haven't been able to locate her. In any case, I hope my collegue isn't angry at me for questioning his email. If anything, it's funny and cleverly written.

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