26 October 2014

Dead Men Swear in Mercer County

Any item taken from a record out of context has the potential to confuse other researchers or to result in statements that are simply false.

This image from an estate settlement in Mercer County, Illinois, in the 1880s makes the point perfectly well. If the researcher takes just a key phrase out of this record, it may appear that Andrew Trask was alive and well on 19 April 1886 when this record was created or that a dead man was taking an oath.

"Andrew Trask, late of said County, deceased, being duly sworn on his said oath, does depose and say that he has..."


Late does not necessarily mean dead, but deceased usually does. Did the clerk err and neglect to cross out the word "deceased" in the record book?

Dead men do not swear nor do they take oaths, at least not on Earth. The conscientious researcher does not quote a document in such a way that the report is misleading.

This little snippet makes it clear why quoting any document needs to be done with enough context to make the meaning clear.

Andrew Trask had not been sworn in open court on 19 April 1886. He was dead and buried in a Mercer County cemetery at the time. The word "deceased" is correct. Dead mean don't make oaths. It was the administrator of his estate who was in court on that date. Those words "The undersigned, Administrator of the Estate of" make all the difference as they clearly indicate who was taking the oath.

Estate of Andrew Trask, Mercer County, Illinois, Probate case files, file 1475, box 1490,
Affidavit of Publication and Posting of Notice, filed 19 April 1886,
Circuit Clerk's Office, Aledo; digital image, FamilySearch (http//www.familysearch.org), accessed 26 October 2014.

Make certain when you extract details that you extract enough.

Dead men may tell tales but they don't make out affidavits.