On 7 September 1897, Thomas M. Graves filled out his first circular requesting family information from the Bureau of the Pensions. What follows is an extracted and summarized list of the details her provided:

  • He was married to Sarah Graves whose maiden name was Sarah Newman.
  • Thomas was married to Sarah on 23 October 1885 in Moberly, Missouri, by Rev. Wolf.
  • There is a record of this marriage in the Recorder’s Office in Huntsville, Missouri.
  • Thomas was previously married “to Mary Large. She died October 8th, 1878 near Clarence in Shelby County, Missouri.”
  • Thomas was the father of the following “children living.” Mollie Piles (nee Graves) aged 28 years on Oct 20 1896, Josie B. Stewart (nee Graves) 27 years old March 20th 1897, John L. Graves 19 years old May 10th 1897.”

This information differs from what Thomas provided in February of 1898. The only pieces of information that are the same are the name of his current wife, the name of minster who married them, and the county in which his previous wife died. The date and place of marriage are different. The name of his previous wife is different as is her date of death. The place of death for the previous wife on the 1898 statement only indicated that she died in Shelby County, Missouri, while this statement indicated that the previous wife died near Clarence, Missouri. The children named on this document are different from those in the 1898 document.

Instead of viewing all the answers as right or wrong, it may be better to view them as right, wrong, or possibly incomplete. Thomas could have remembered the date and place of his marriage to Sarah E. Newman incorrectly or he could have knowingly provided wrong information. It could be that Thomas was married two times before his marriage to Sarah E. Newman. It could also be that Thomas was married to one woman whose name was some variant on Mary Missouri Emaline Davis (the 1898 statement does not appear to give a maiden name) and Thomas remembered the date of death incorrectly.

The children are more of a problem. This statement listed children who are clearly older (born in 1868, 1870, and 1878) than those listed in the 1898 statement (born in 1886, and 1892). In both statements the specific dates of birth for each child are either stated directly or implied. That would suggest that Thomas was getting those dates from somewhere–possibly a family bible. It would seem unusual for Thomas to list children in this statement that are not actually his.

The differences in the two documents strongly suggest that other records be referenced and that a chronology be created combining both documents with clear citations as to which items in that chronology came from which document.

The real quick reminder from these two documents is that:

  • any document can be incorrect or incomplete;
  • any document can contain some information that is correct, some that is wrong, and some that is a combination of both;
  • people forget, get confused, or tell outright lies and it can be difficult based solely on one document to know which;
  • no document should be the “only” document used



4 Responses

  1. Perhaps someone else, who did not know the right answers, helped the applicant give the information. I’ve seen some interesting answers in some of the pension applications. One man, who claimed he was destitute and living with his son, added that if they needed more information they had a telephone where he could be reached. Now, someone had to have some money because they were in rural Mississippi in the 1920’s!

    • I’m wondering that myself. Compounding the problem is that he was, according to other documents in his application, nearly blind. If different children helped him with each statement that could explain why different ones are listed.

  2. Were these questionairres found in the pension files or are they located somewhere else?

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