Never Assume Completion

Never consider a biography in a county history complete. A variety of details can be left out for a variety of reasons. The 1907 biography shown here omits the first marriage of the subject’s mother, his two half-sisters, and his parents’ divorce and remarriage, and second divorce. And there’s always the potential that some of the published details could be slightly incorrect. Use these as clues to further your research, not as established facts. biographies-leaving-out


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4 thoughts on “Never Assume Completion

  1. Dave

    I once read somewhere that some of the biographies contained in the county history books that were typically published in the late 19th century were considered “vanity” biographies. That is, some of the content might be somewhat embellished and appear favorably biased towards the subject. Also read that sometimes the subject of the biography actually had to pay to have the biography published in the book. Is there any truth to this? Any thoughts or comments?

    1. michaeljohnneill Post author

      The late 19th century biographies in these US books were vanity biographies. The books were usually sold by subscription and the purchaser was typically the submitter of the information. There was no editing or fact-checking of information–so one has to take it at face value. Not that they are all full of errors. I’ve seen ones that didn’t “leave anything out” and had details that matched with other records. But I’ve seen some that were selective in what they included. All of that’s typical if the submitter is paying for the biography to be in the book. That’s also why families that were less well-heeled (or more tight with their money) don’t appear in these books.

  2. Patricia Regan

    I would like to add information to this comment in regards to whom usually wrote these Bio’s for many County History Books. The person sometimes described by people as the author was in many County Histories only the compiler of these book Bio’s written by the person themselves. Bio’s written by the person (themselves) often only reflect what that particular writer wanted to have published and also reflects what he wanted people to believe and perhaps included only the formation that made this person look important. That means that other information on the family or the person was left out for a reason. They often left out additional information and relatives due to their own personal preference and opinion. There are cases where one can sometimes find the Letter send to the family person by the compiler requesting info kept in the family archives or put with the family Bible (found several in my family). This letter requesting them to send in their Bio and sometimes even the hand written reply written by your Ancestor was often carefully kept as a keepsake.


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