“I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” Richard P. Feynman
By Betsy Cross Thorpe
There are many ways to express uncertainty. Some of the most common ways are:
I’m not sure. I doubt it. I don’t know for sure. It’s very unlikely. I have my own doubts. I don’t think so. I don’t believe this is true. There’s some doubt in my mind about that. I’m not a hundred percent sure.
Then, there is my personal favorite, I don’t know—yet.
For the purpose of this post I am going to use a piece from Tales of Our Family to show how I address an uncertainty when I write about my ancestors. The piece is titled So Far Away.
My Question : What was the name of the young man from my grandmothers past who died in a plane crash when she was a young woman? She spoke of him often but to my knowledge she never said his name.
That was my question. I hoped to answer it with certainty.
To find the name of the young man who died in the airplane crash I looked on newspapers.com. I searched newspapers in Mississippi, from 1920 through 1946. I used the search terms “airplane killed Mississippi.” My grandmother lived in Mississippi from the 1920’s through 1946. The plane crash that her friend died in happened while she was living there.
I found evidence of only one plane crash taking place in Mississippi during that time. Articles in the Yazoo Herald, circa August 1929 pointed to a tragic plane crash that claimed the life of a young pilot. The pilot was nineteen-year-old Albert Firth.
Was he the boy that my grandmother knew?
I examined my data.
Did Albert Firth live in the right place to have known my grandmother?
Yes. He was born and raised in the town of Holly Bluff Mississippi, the same place that my grandmother moved to when she was a schoolgirl. The plane crash that he died in happened in 1929. My grandmother was still living there in 1929.
Was Albert Firth the right age to have been friends with my grandmother? Is it possible that he and my grandmother would have known each other? Is it reasonable to believe they were friends?
Yes. He was born in 1910. He was one year older than my grandmother. Holly Bluff was a small town. In 1920 it had a population of eight hundred and ninety. They were the same age living in a small town. Yes it is quite possible that Albert Firth and my grandmother knew each other. I couldn’t say for sure, but I was almost certain that I had found the name of the person I was looking for.
My aunt, Gerry Roe, then provided additional information. My grandmother sometimes talked another person that she knew when she lived in Holly Bluff. But this person she mentioned by name. Miss Lurlene Screws. My aunt located Miss Screws on the 1920 census. She found one Miss Lurlene Screws, a person my grandmother remembered well, residing in the home of ten-year-old Albert Firth and his parents.
Her discovery answered the final part of my question, was it reasonable to believe they were friends?
Yes it was. Bearing in mind that Albert Firth and Miss Lurlene lived in the same house, and with all other facts considered I found it reasonable to believe that my grandmother and Albert Firth were childhood friends.
OUTCOME: Although I couldn’t prove that Albert Firth was the boy my grandmother once knew, I could, with the above facts in mind, speculate and write with confidence that he was.