Fact-checking the siblings' stories

2013-06-23T00:00:00Z 2013-07-14T17:09:07Z Fact-checking the siblings' storiesTimes Staff nwitimes.com
June 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The 1948 photo of children for sale in Chicago can stir emotions of shock and disbelief. The stories the siblings share, like any person's memory, are subjective.

In an effort to verify the background of the children in the photo, The Times enlisted the help of Linda Herrick Swisher, public information coordinator for the Hammond Public Library and known expert on tracing ancestry.

She used provided documents, such as RaeAnn Mills' birth certificate and David McDaniel's adoption papers, to compare names and dates against other resources, including obituary indexes, marriage license indexes, 1940 census data, newspaper databases and military records.

"All of the stuff I found was publicly available online," she said.

Herrick Swisher's findings include a marriage license for the siblings' parents. She also found multiple newspapers in which the photo printed in 1948. She unearthed obituaries for the siblings' parents and for Ruth Zoeteman, among other family members.

Times staff writer Vanessa Renderman, who used Herrick Swisher's findings to corroborate details told her in interviews by the children in the photo, visited the DeMotte Public Library to research the Zoeteman family.

A farm plat directory from 1968 shows a parcel of land belonging to John and Ruth Zoeteman. Records show the couple were issued a marriage license Dec. 19, 1936, and were married Jan. 1, 1937.

There are no birth or death records for any biological children the Zoetemans may have had in the county, supporting Mills and Milton Chalifoux's statements that they were the only children in the family.

Records also show Harry McDaniel lived in the area, supporting David McDaniel's statement that he lived within bike riding distance of Mills and Chalifoux.

Jasper County Clerk Vickie Bozell declined to verify any information about the validity of McDaniel's adoption records -- which he provided and bear Bozell's certified stamp — saying adoptions are confidential court records.

Herrick Swisher said people interested in tracing their family tree should gather as much information from "home sources" as possible before venturing to websites such as www.ancestry.com, www.findagrave.com or www.familysearch.org. Home sources are usually kept within a family, such as certificates, Bible records, licenses, school photos, report cards and anything that would have created a record of someone's life.

Researching brings responsibility, she cautioned.

"You have to be sensitive to the people who are mentioned in the records that you're looking for and you have to realize that, although you may find answers, they may not be the ones you want," she said. "And there may not be the happy ending you envisioned."

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