No Intelligible Statement, Word Blindness, and Word Deafness

I’ve been reviewing the Civil War pension file for Leander Butler, a veteran from Kansas who lived most of his post-war life in Missouri.
A doctor’s statement from 1899 indicated that Leander was unable to provide an “intelligible statement” for the doctor at the time of the examination.

The statement goes on to provide more details about Leander’s ability to answer questions. While my understanding of “word-deafness”(generally meaning that one hears sounds but can’t make out the words/meaning) and “word-blindness” (sees letters but can’t make out the words) needs to be refined, the implications are clear: Leander’s ability to communicate was hindered.

How often do we think about how able our relative was to provide accurate, reliable information to the census taker? We often think about whether an informant actually “knew” the information and whether they had “first-hand” knowledge of that information?

But do we stop and ask how reliable their memory was when they were providing information? They may have had first-hand knowledge of an event, but their memory may have been challenged by the time they were providing information.

Based on this doctor’s statement, here’s hoping Leander didn’t answer questions from the 1900 census taker.


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