How many of you know that it takes up to seven years to digest swallowed gum? Or how about that shaving facial hair makes it grow back thicker and darker? Did you know that storing batteries in the refrigerator makes them last longer? I knew all these things, until I found out that I was being lied to. I believed these things because I heard them from someone I trusted, but I never considered that they might have been lied to also.
None of the above urban myths are true. Nope, not a word. How do I know? Well, I couldn’t exactly check my notes on these matters. I don’t remember where I first heard these things, probably from my mom, or a school teacher, when I was a child. When you’re ten, who is more trustworthy than Mom or Miss Norwood? Nobody, that’s who! Teachers and mothers don’t lie, unless they have been lied to.
In order to verify what I thought I knew. I had to do the research all over again. I went to snopes.com and they told me it was okay to use my nose-hair trimmer. (Hey, I know its gross, but when you get to a certain age, it happens.) I didn’t have to pluck them one at a time with tweezers anymore. I knew that Barbara Mikkleson over at Snopes wasn’t lying, because she told me where she got the information. I could check with the doctors and read the newspaper articles myself if I suspected her facts were not quite straight.
Here’s what this has to do with genealogy. You may trust Ancestry.com, Family Search, and RootsWeb. They are trustworthy, reputable, and authoritative. If Ancestry tells you that Aunt Myrtle’s father was John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, it must be true, right? But you have to consider, did someone lie to Ancestry.com? Perhaps so. And that doesn’t mean the person who lied to Ancestry is bad. Probably someone lied to them as well. Spurgeon wisely said, “A lie can go around the world, before the truth can get its boots on.”1 I can tell you that lies will travel all over the internet barefooted before the truth wakes up.
But we can stop the lies in their tracks by citing the sources we use. By citing our sources, we tell others, not just where we got our information, but also share a little about our analysis and research habits. Others will know that we are trustworthy, organized, and thorough. If a lying source does try to sneak into our genealogy research, it is naked and exposed for all to see. It won’t be able to hide in the shadows. Truth will have time to put on its boots and kick some lying source butt.
So the next time someone tells you to put your batteries on ice, just smile and tell them you prefer to keep them in the desk drawer, but I still wouldn’t advise swallowing your gum. It’s just not natural.
1Many have attributed this quote to Mark Twain, however; even the site twainquotes.com (http://www.twainquotes.com/Lies.html) contends that this is not a Twain quote, but is actually from the famous London preacher, Charles Spurgeon. I could not locate the precise sermon or writing of Spurgeon that contains the quote, but others attribute it to him as well (see Charles Spurgeon.” BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2012. 25 April. 2012. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/charlesspu105835.html).
Barbara Mikkelson, Urban Legends Reference Pages, http://www.snopes.com/oldwives/oldwives.asp, copyrighted 1995-2012.
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, Baltimore, MD, Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007