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Feb 9 13 1:36 PM

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I have to say due to an unexpected death in my family (my 97-year-old great aunt to whom I will always be grateful because of her sense of history and her family mementos), I got off to a bit of a late start on this. But, because last year I had started a writing project on one of the Rhodes family members, I picked it up again and I feel as if I am making wonderful progress.

Because of my journalism background, I am writing this more from the pov of a journalist - very little dialogue unless it comes from letters and papers, but a lot of background and research. This particular guy's name is well known to history, but very little had actually been done about him. He was one of the early residents of Washington, D.C., having established his first inn and tavern there about 1797 - and ran many of the more prominent hotels of the area until he left for Kentucky in 1816. He died there the following year. I have a plethora of information. 

However, since this is family history, it is nice when you can include the entire family. I have much on his children from the time they became apprentices at age 13 and 14, but is it wrong of me to speculate on things I don't know for sure. For instance in 1803 a school for certain subjects - math, reading and some sciences - was established across the street from the hotel the family was running. We know the children were well educated for the time, but we don't know where. Is it wrong to mention the school and a short description of it and say it was likely the children attended there; or perhaps, possibly mention it and say this was indicative of the schools they would have attended?

I have a lot of examples of "it could have been and probably was but I can't definitively prove it" stories. And then I have the examples of schools who claim to have educated someone and they are willing to tell you that - but they can't prove it either.

The fact that this family went to the nth degree to make sure their children were educated is important down the line. So how do I handle it?


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#1 [url]

Feb 9 13 2:44 PM

From the pov of a journalist you should certainly add the details of that school and/or others, as well as the fact that you don't yet have the documentation to prove it.  Even if it wasn't that school many others would likely be similar anyway.  I've done the same with my oilfield workers, I don't know the exact company they worked for but oilfields don't really differ that much. The major point for your story is that drive for the nth degree of education (as I see it).  Any description of education of the time and location will benefit your tale. Isn't that what journalist's do?  Report findings and let people figure out what they think.

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#2 [url]

Feb 10 13 3:23 AM

I'm constantly speculating! As long as you make it clear that's what you're doing, I don't see anything wrong with it and I see it in non-fiction a lot when there is not much known about a particular subject. I've seen some people complain in reviews about the amount of "maybe's" and possibilities" in those non-fiction books but those reviewers don't seem to understand that's just what happens when there is not much to go on - you either speculate based on what little you do know or you don't write about the subject at all. I think all historians speculate at one point or another - as long as it's not presented as factual, it is an accepted part of historical studies.

I also often include details about the area where my ancestors lived even if it has nothing directly to do with them, it sets the scene and describes the world around them.

I think especially if you believe the children would have attended a similar school even if it was not that one in particular, it is definitely worth mentioning as an example.

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#3 [url]

Feb 10 13 6:49 AM

Jackie, I think it is fine to add the school and other details like that as long as we remember to write things like: most likely; probably; we can imagine that...  In this way our readers know when we are giving certain facts from our research and when we are speculating as a result of our research.

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#4 [url]

Feb 10 13 10:05 AM

Speculation is a huge part of a genealogist's work, as long as it's stated clearly there is no problem. In fact, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack recommends it in her book, You Can Write Your Family History. She'll be joining us later in the month. By all means Jackie, include the school, perfectly acceptable. 

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