Wes Pruden passed this week and one must pause and remember the passing of any journalism dinosaur. I think he would have liked the moniker. I will leave it to the big shots to write his obituary and list all his professional accomplishments with praise and admiration – I will remember a chat.
We wound up together in the buffet line at a Canadian Embassy do, maybe one of the July 1st Canada Day celebrations. Dai and I were in line and Wes came up and tipped his straw boater at me, smiled and said hello to Dai. They of course worked together, but this is not about them or their work, it is about me and my chat with the prim and perfect gentleman in the seersucker suit.
Ancestry.com School Yearbooks. Wesley was covering the news on the Little Rock Central High newspaper The Tiger.
I had met Wes before and we had chatted, but this turned out to be the slow line to moose and we talked genealogy and southern religion. He said his sister did genealogy and I told him I could make them both swoon with my added magic of ancestry findings. I asked him about adding DNA testing and he had not, as of that time, but this was easily 12 years ago or more. He might have later tested. I certainly prattled on about the wonders of it long enough. But I want his hat – all his hats. Hat bands will carry DNA.
I was talking about how DNA was correcting countless family trees. I did say to him my standard line at the time, “if you might have paternity surprises, you should think twice about testing. And I would add: “If you might be wanted for an indictable crime where you might have left behind DNA, you should think carefully about testing.” Prophetic for more than a decade ago.
This is when he told me that, according to his sister, there were a few conflicts in his family’s records as well. I shared my favorite line about mistakes by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, who once said, “It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.” I did not mean to make light of an execution but it is understood that folks who love genealogy believe strongly in correcting mistakes. Like newspaper people, or at least newspaper people like Wes, we want multiple sources, and on the record, and we want to get it right. For me the mistakes are not just mistakes; they are genealogy crimes. We are all guilty, but we should at least try to correct a few.
Wes used to give the reporters who worked for him a piece of advice, “…if your mother says she loves you, check it out…” Or something to that effect. Considering the number of mis-attributed parentages that are being revealed through DNA testing, this is good advice.
Making a findagrave memorial for Wes, I began to see the conflicts in Wes’ own records. But the discrepancies are more than a few and lots of fun to untangle.
I do not have Wes’ birth certificate in hand to verify what is on it. But if the birth was not registered until later (often, births were reported to the counties by the family separately), it also might not have the perfect information. How many have found the birth record being dated after the christening?
The 1940 census helps to illustrate there can be more to the story than a person’s vitals. It can be a window to imagine what the visit by the census taker was like in the “olden days.”
The census enumerators visited home by home and wrote down the answers on their long forms by hand. The enumerator was often a community leader of one sort or another and of course was a person who could read and write and do sums. This enumerator was Columbus Allen Riley and he had lots of records at Ancestry.com himself, and for his family. He has his own vital records and even a photo or two.
The census has always been a problem for accuracy. Anyone in the home, even a child or visiting stranger could answer the questions. But often people did not know and sometimes guessed. When Wes Jr.’s birthplace was being recorded in 1940, I can almost hear the chatter in the room as someone must have remarked, “No, Wes was not born in Arkansas, he was born in Mississippi.”
I bet the enumerator was told the story of how and why the family — or at least the expectant mother, Anne Jewell Wilder Pruden — was in Mississippi and not Arkansas on the 18th of December 1934 or 1935 when she gave birth to Wes.
Reconciling factual mistakes, whether in a publication or for personal genealogy is the stuff that truth is made of. One goes for truth or leaves it behind, and which is chosen determines how we grade our work. I stand with getting to the truth.
I heard a lecture some time ago and when I asked why Ancestry.com would not offer a leaf-like flag to warn us about misidentified ancestors and mis-attributed parentages, the lecturer implied, “it would not be any fun for people… …if they could not have the ancestors they wanted.” That is too bad. Some of us are on our own for getting the right news out.
In census records and birth, marriage and death records there are countless mistakes and for countless different reasons. The 1940 census for the Pruden family also has an example of a transcription mistake. The handwritten census form shows the mother Anna, (Anne) age 33, married, relation to head of house, wife. But the transcribed index has her age 3! We must verify and reconcile the facts that will not agree.
The Wikipedia page for Wes asserts he was born in Arkansas and has 1935 as his birth year. And it notes his family being in Arkansas for several generations and so born in Arkansas.
The US Public Records Index has his home address and a birthday of December 18th, 1934. This database comes from official documents like real estate and other county public records and so on. When you are searching for people in recent records this is an important database. And the main thing to learn is that there will be many many people who share the exact same name. Even people with the same name and birth date, exactly the same. It is a word of warning with waving flags: just because you see two men with similar names, No, it does not “have to be” him.
“What types of public records have been utilized to create the U.S. Public Records Index?
- White pages
- Directory assistance records
- Marketing lists
- Postal change-of-address forms
- Public record filings
- Historical residential records”
Then in the book, Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1981, page 377, they have his birthplace as Jackson, Mississippi, but his birth year is the 1935 date.
The 1940 census also has the category asking where everyone lived in 1935. In this census Wesley Sr and Anna (Anne) say they were in Arkansas. Would this say that Wes Jr must have been born in 1934 and they were living in Jackson? Or were the family or Mom just visiting Jackson in 1935 or in 1934?
And the next best thing for finding ancestors used to be newspapers, which today are going out of business faster than you can say subscription to newspapers.com. These are a genealogist’s best friend — or one of them (but all know I love them). Depending on place and time, newspapers were the Facebook of their day.
…of course a lovely Jackson, Mississippi girl would be at home to have her baby…”
This first newspaper clipping speaks of the marriage of Wesley Sr and Miss Anne, March 23rd, 1934. This clipping notes that Wesley Sr. was initially a Nazarene minister; Wes and I had mentioned in passing that we both grew up in the homes of ministers of works churches from the Nazarene Doctrine to the revival Baptists.
There waiting for us in the newspaper for December 21st 1935 is the announcement of Wesley Jr.! In Jackson, Mississippi, but what birth date?!
…Saying the birth was on December 1st?!
Is this a newspaper mistake? Was he born on the 1st or the 18th? The 18th is certainly closer to the 21st than the 1st. Would this not be the irony of ironies for our dear Wes’ birth date to have been stated incorrectly in his first appearance in print!
Don’t you just love newspapers! 🙂
But why give up – of course there are more clues
I guess we can guess our Wes Pruden was born December 18th 1935 in Jackson, Mississippi!
I believe Wes would be tickled to have these many pieces of his life also remembered and leave us all guessing.
Google is my favorite for everything. Here are more hints and helps for research. Google with all caution, but it is so sophisticated today you can visit a place via google earth and almost leave flowers at a grave far away. You can even plan your trip via Google Earth, travel along roads and familiarize yourself with a place before visiting. (See: Driving in Spain – Hotel Palacio de Trasvilla. For our recent travel to Europe, where we would be driving unfamiliar roads, I used Google Earth to learn the way around the places we were going to visit, the hotels and the sights to see. Besides the GPS systems, which can often be wrong in rural areas in any country, I was able to recognize landmarks as we drove and felt like I had already driven the roads before.)
For family history use Google to visit your homes – all your homes, your ancestors’ homes, your childhood homes, theirs.
How we have used Google.
And you can read all about where we were going that Google fun day in the blog of Ancient Ancestors. So many of the earth have the ancestors of the ice-ages. Those ancestors are as important as the more recent. Through our families’ ancestors’ y-DNA and mt-DNA we can learn the personal anthropology of our families.
Note: I have not and for the time being am not planning to read the newspaper and other obituaries for Wes. I am still writing my own pieces and will not be even subliminally influenced. There IS more to this story, that I can tell.
But I do share these links to obituaries here.
His work home for many decades.
What would a good wake be without some laughter? From You Tube
Betty White taking the census… (after ad)
Christopher Walken talking the census… (at 51:32 – 56:41)
- Year: 1940; Census Place: Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas; Roll: T627_166; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 60-11
- 1940 United States Federal Census
- Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.Original data – United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627
- “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012”; School Name: Little Rock Central High School; Year: 1952
- U.S. School Yearbooks
- Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.
- Publisher Date
- Publisher Location
- Provo, UT, USA
Ancestry.com. U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 2 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Voter Registration Lists, Public Record Filings, Historical Residential Records, and Other Household Database Listings