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Kathleen Chambers, Memories and Me

As one of my primary sources, Kathleen Chambers’ memories were vital to the writing of Mrs. Oswald Chambers.

Interviewed in 1991 by Oswald Chambers biographer David McCasland, Kathleen told wide-ranging stories of her parents and her life.

She was nearly 78 years-old when she talked with McCasland. Her father had been dead for 73 years; her mother for a quarter century.

Kathleen had no siblings and no first cousinsKathleen Chambers, memories, genealogy, Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, David McCasland, Abandoned to God, research libraries, transcripts, interview, aunts or uncles still alive.

McCasland used her information when he wrote his book, as did I. She provided stories that charmed me and gave great insight into her mother.

Most of her memories were true.

But not all.

The need to verify

As a one-time reporter, I knew to check Kathleen’s facts when possible.

Before I began my in depth research, I did a genealogical work up of the Chambers and Hobbs families.

I sought answers to specific questions about Biddy’s past–particularly where her stenography skill came from and why.

In hunting down that information–it took me a month to reach my conclusions–I learned about Kathleen’s ancestors.

When I read the transcript, I realized Kathleen had the outline of the story fairly correct, but muddled the generations and didn’t know basic facts.

That surprised me until I recalled how few relatives she had to tell her family stories and none were alive by 1991.

Her uncertainty was not her fault; all my information is backed up with endnotes in the biography for those who are curious.

How true are memories?

Kathleen Chambers, memories, genealogy, Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, David McCasland, Abandoned to God, research libraries, transcripts, interview

Kathleen at 78

Nearly fifty years ago, my family spent an entire summer camping around Europe.

As a young teenager, I had the task of recording the travel journal.

Twelve years ago, I transcribed those notes into a story for my siblings.

Last spring, I reworked the story and was surprised by  facts I did not remember correctly.

Unlike Kathleen, I could ask three other people still alive who took the trip with me.

My uncle and I discussed one of the stories  last night–about his birthplace in Sicily.

I was sure we visited Normandy’s veteran’s cemetery.

The journal, a map and someone else’s memory said we stood aghast at Verdun.

I’m a lot younger now than Kathleen Chambers was when she sat for her interview.

Kathleen Chambers, memories, genealogy, Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, David McCasland, Abandoned to God, research libraries, transcripts, interview

My tabbed version of Kathleen’s transcript!

I’ve got written notes and other eyewitnesses.

Yet I still got the story–events I eye witnessed and wrote down– wrong!

What’s a biographer to do?

Make your best guess, cite what references you have, verify everything that can be checked and use endnotes to explain puzzles.

Logic, reasonable doubt, discussions with others and books can help.

Ultimately, I had to ask myself if I trusted Kathleen Chambers or not?

Who else knew Biddy Chambers as well?

Tweetables

Kathleen Chambers and a need to verify the source. Click to Tweet

Handling an unintentional unreliable narrator: Kathleen Chambers. Click to Tweet

How to verify the unverifiable? Click to Tweet

 

 

 

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