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Gathering and evaluating evidence from less obvious sources

Gathering and evaluating evidence from less obvious sources
1920s photograph of young man in smart clothes
© University of Strathclyde

Sources that are created by individuals for their own personal use or reasons could be considered to be less reliable overall; consider diaries with exaggerated accounts of valour in battle or meeting one’s husband for the first time.

On the other hand, in many personal records, there would be no external reason for a person to bend the truth, so you could get someone reporting their correct age in a diary where they might subtract five years on a census record.

In this step, we present two sources created by private individuals and evaluate them for reliability and for the amount and type of information that can be gleaned. These were created either by or in relation to two individuals; George R. HUNT and Alma L. BLOUNT who married in the 1920s, lived in Shanghai, China and immigrated to Australia.

The questions to consider for each source are:

  1. What information can be gained from this source?
  2. How reliable is that information? Can we trust that the source is telling the truth?
  3. After looking at the source what research could we undertake next?

Source One

  1. This is an image of a young couple dressed in fine clothes. Given the images are placed together in a folder, their surnames are matching and that there is a date given, it is possible that this is a photo taken on the occasion of their marriage.

  2. This is a non-official source but there would be no likely reason for the couple to misrepresent themselves. We don’t know for sure this is a wedding photograph but the names, date and place given should be considered as reliable in and of themselves.

  3. Research to consider next would be finding a marriage certificate and a passenger list to and from Hawaii for both of the individuals. We could also consider whether the clothing worn is of the time period, was the photographer listed on the other side of the document holder active in Honolulu at the time?

Source Two

  1. This is an image of a page from an eight page letter written by Alma Blount HUNT to her brother and sisters. (This page and the following two pages are available in the ‘Downloads’ section below) She describes the aftermath of fighting between the Japanese and the Chinese in the local area and details of an upcoming move.

  2. This is a non-official source and while there would be no apparent reason for her to lie, any letter, diary, memoir or piece of personal writing is subject to the viewpoint and ‘truth’ of the author. Thus the reporting of the historical events would need to be verified. Also, a letter is a snapshot of a particular point in time and plans described may not have ended up happening. More would need to be known about the relationship between the siblings to know whether the author is likely to be putting a positive gloss on her news.

  3. Research to consider next would be verifying the plans described in the pages. Can we find Alma in passenger lists from Shanghai on or around the date outlined? Do other letters exist which can be used to follow up on any of these plans. Can she and George be found in Byford, Western Australia as noted in the letter? Was there fighting in Shanghai at this time period? [The partial answer to this last question is that there seemed to be a number of military actions in this area from the late 1920s. However, further research is required to pin down the exact timing of the events Alma describes.]


As you can see by the above examples and those in the previous step, much direct and indirect information can be taken from official and less obvious (un-official) sources and they can pose many questions for further research. Try looking at the resources you currently have to see if they have further details to tell you in regards to your family tree.

Photograph. Alma Blount HUNT and George R. HUNT 11 January 1925. Honolulu, Hawaii Territory, USA. H. Schultheis Photography. Private collection of Tahitia McCabe, Glasgow.
Letter[HUNT], Alma (1899-1958). Letter from Alma HUNT at Shanghai, China to Anna, Paul and Marie BLOUNT at Arizona, USA. [ca. 1928-1930, letter is undated] Private collection of Tahitia McCabe, Glasgow, Scotland.

© University of Strathclyde
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Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

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