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Old November 16th, 2017, 04:55 PM   #1
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Conflicting Primary Sources?


I'm researching a local historical event - a riot that took place over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of literature on the subject that I've been able to find - I haven't found even a general local history text that talks about the riot aside from some basic information. The event appeared in newspapers in nearly every state, however, nearly every article has slightly differing details. Things like how many people were injured or killed, the estimated dollar amount of property damage, etc. Should I prioritize what the local papers say (there were only 2 city newspapers at the time)? What if even the local and state papers have somewhat varying information?

Any help would be wonderful, thanks.
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Old November 16th, 2017, 05:20 PM   #2
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Would you mind stating the event? Im from Ohio too. haha
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Old November 17th, 2017, 06:49 AM   #3

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To begin with, newspaper accounts are usually secondary sources unless the report was written by an eye-witness or participant.

Conflict between sources if the usual, agreement the exception and an exception that gives us pause. Sorting out differences in chronicling any event arise from the differences between informants and their respective POV.

In your problem, you can use the secondary source news stories as a starting point for your direction. First, pin down as accurately as possible the who, what, where, and when questions. That will give help you focus on a search for the actual, if any, primary sources. Look for names of participants whose identity might appear within the parameters of the four W's. That list may be long, or short, but the next step is to track down the families and question them. Did anyone leave letters, notes, diaries, photographs or drawings relevant to your research project. There often are "family stories" that are secondary sources but sometimes worth pursuing. This is intellectual detective work and your skills at it will grow with use. Sometimes the pursuit of one targeted event/person will uncover stuff so fascinating you will be tempted to jump from one investigation to another. In my experience, its best to stay focused and put the new research project "on the shelf" for later consideration.

I hate to disappoint, but conflict between primary sources is even more likely than found in secondary sources.

How does one resolve any conflict?
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Old November 17th, 2017, 10:37 AM   #4
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As long as you can back up any claims with factual evidence, is there any issue? Unsubstantiated claims that can be factually disproven are to be avoided, but if there are no evident promary sources then saying 'thr death toll/costs are unclear, but local newspapers at the time suggested between *** and ***'.

If it's death tolls you are looking for, wouldn't local churches, law officers or the local land registers not keep such records?
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Old November 17th, 2017, 11:04 AM   #5

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If the riot were due to labor unrest, the local union halls in your area might have some sort of library which might be of avail.

But it could be one of those cases where a guy goes into a bar and takes a seat at the end and tells the guy next him that a big dog is roaming the streets and by the time the info gets to the other end of the bar it has become vicious monster who has already ripped dozens of victims to death.

Eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable.
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Old November 17th, 2017, 02:54 PM   #6

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Police departments tend to maintain records for very long periods. Problematically, there is so much and it is unlikely that records that old have ever been digitized, or copied onto microfiche. Narrow the most probable dates. Locate where the archives are kept, and approach the Archivist in charge. If you are a legitimate researcher, custodians of archive will often welcome you with open arms, and no one knows the files better than those whose job is to protect them.

Official records of government are technically still secondary, but often contain the earliest and least "tinkered with" reports. When a riot occurs, who are the among the first on the scene and most often involved in the event? Those reports are so fine that they are for all practical purposes primary documents.

You've tweaked my curiosity. Tell us what you think you know about this event so we can be more specific in suggesting means of discovering as much as possible. Who, what, where, when, and why. New reports love the why, but the first four are essential journalistic technique. Of course, reporters look at events different than the government records generally. In Law, it is only important to provide the Corpus Delecti and the motive is seldom as fully investigated.

Riots are by definition criminal acts. Was anyone arrested, and for what crimes? People in Ohio arrested for crimes generate a ton of paper, even in those ancient times. That's the police archives mentioned above. The next step in the judicial process is often the prosecution of those suspected of committing the crimes. There is a good chance that if anyone was brought to the Bar for the event you are focusing on, there will be records. Those records are really tough, unless there is an Appeal to a higher court. All appeals are recorded and published. Now can you guess where books of old Appellate records are to be found? Right on first guess. Go the the best local Law Library and ask. Legal research is specialty that takes some learning, so unless you've studied Law, you will need the help of the librarian. They are very busy folks with a plague of lawyers and their agents, so don't waste their time. Appellate Decisions are Primary Documents on their face and reflect the legalities of cases that were decided by a mix of primary and secondary sources at trial and under oath. Wonderful stuff to look at events and people through the eyes of experienced Jurists.
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Old November 17th, 2017, 03:10 PM   #7

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It probably can't be said enough that no source is 100% guaranteed to reflect what actually happened when any human is involved. Humans build and program wonderful machines, but those machines are also vulnerable to recording inaccurately events.

My colleague, Lucious is as usual quite correct in saying eye-witnesses are notoriously inaccurate, but the same can be said of almost any statement and testimony. As historians and researchers, we can afford to hold "doubt" until it hurts, but for most folks in this life, close is good enough. Knowing is less useful than believing probabilities. Our values provide biases, but they also provide the foundation for keeping our societies viable. At some point, we just have to accept we DO NOT KNOW.

Professor J.P. Cambridge of Harvard occupies the respect and admiration of his peers around the world. He has spent his whole life studying a pivotal five minutes that he personally witnessed as a young adult. He studied while his Under-grad pursued pleasure. He lost his sweetheart to a stockbroker whose only talent was making money. Incidentally the stockbroker ended up in a minimum security prison for fraud, leaving the old sweet heart to spend his millions on Cubana Boys. Now the good Professor is old and almost bald. His eyesight is failing after years of peering at tiny type related to his central research. Got it? Clearly Doctor knows more than, say the local mechanic whose interests seldom go beyond sports and the supermarket newspaper. How close do you suppose the Professor is to knowing? Hint: there are miles and miles to go yet, and each new revelation only opens more questions.
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Old November 17th, 2017, 04:58 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by ErinLV View Post
I'm researching a local historical event - a riot that took place over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of literature on the subject that I've been able to find - I haven't found even a general local history text that talks about the riot aside from some basic information. The event appeared in newspapers in nearly every state, however, nearly every article has slightly differing details. Things like how many people were injured or killed, the estimated dollar amount of property damage, etc. Should I prioritize what the local papers say (there were only 2 city newspapers at the time)? What if even the local and state papers have somewhat varying information?

Any help would be wonderful, thanks.
That's pretty typical with newspapers, in my experience. Could be because the reports got put out before the final death toll was established, could be the final count was never really known (the death tolls even for the 1918 flu pandemic are estimated). Could just be poor reporting. I would simply include all details you found. Instead of "X many people were killed", make it "X-Y people were killed".
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Old November 17th, 2017, 05:12 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by paranoid marvin View Post
As long as you can back up any claims with factual evidence, is there any issue? Unsubstantiated claims that can be factually disproven are to be avoided, but if there are no evident promary sources then saying 'thr death toll/costs are unclear, but local newspapers at the time suggested between *** and ***'.

If it's death tolls you are looking for, wouldn't local churches, law officers or the local land registers not keep such records?
Not necessarily. Deaths weren't always recorded in history. Ohio began issuing official, statewide death certificates in 1908 but general compliance probably wasn't for another 10 years or so. Before 1908, some counties and cities kept death registers but not always, and even when they did, it wasn't mandatory so many deaths went unreported.

I'm not sure how you think land registers would help? They wouldn't be of much use as that would likely only show a transfer of deed after the person died - and not everyone was a landowner and even if they were, deeds don't record date and cause of death, so that wouldn't help much in finding and adding up the amount of people who died on a certain date in a particular event. Probates are generally more useful for death information, but again, not everyone had a will or any probate records after they died and even if they did, they again don't record cause of death and normally don't record exact death date, so there would be no way to confirm if someone died in a riot.

Obituaries or death notices are a common resource for deaths, but again, not everyone had one, especially in rural areas so that also wouldn't be a complete resource.

All too often, the only record of a person's death in history is their gravestone, and here again, not everyone could afford one, and sometimes they get damaged, stolen, destroyed, etc. This is why genealogy can be so difficult.
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