I Say Tomato, You Say Pearl Onion

Resolving Conflicting Data

North Carolina?  Arkansas?  Alabama?   In the last post, we saw that all of these had been offered as possible birthplaces for my gg-grandfather, John Wesley Bowie.   I said I’d bet on Catahoula Parish, Louisiana.  Why?

What does one do when confronted by multiple conflicting data?  Let’s start with the fact that the researcher at first has no idea as to the veracity of any asserted fact.  But to make sense of the world and to do so in a rational manner is the reason that a research develops an hypothesis.  A hypothesis generally is based on some matter of fact from which the researcher has conjectured, speculated, deduced, or inferred the facts which  constitute the hypothesis.

Here, my hypothesis is that John Wesley Bowie was born in Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, and not any of those other places.   Examine the facts which support this hypothesis.  First, most of the rest of his family are said by record evidence to have been born in Catahoula Parish. But consider: in my immediate family, my mother was born in Missouri; my parents were married while attending college in Missouri; after college, my father was stationed in the Army in Missouri; my parents’ first three children were born in Missouri; all four of their children were born within 50 months of each other. If the 1960 census turns up missing in 2032,  where would you (assuming you’re around then) surmise that my youngest brother was born?  You’d probably be wrong!].

In any event, there is no evidence that John Wesley Bowie’s parents, Rufus and Sophronia Bowie were ever in any of the other places suggested by the records.   Then  there is the matter of timing. The earliest record, the 1860 census, was taken when John was five years old.  It’s likely that informants could remember his birth just that few years earlier.  On the other hand, we don’t know who gave the enumerator the information; it may well be that someone surmised that since the young,man was present in Catahoula, he was born there–a logical fallacy for which I’m sure there’s an appropriate Latin phrase!

Notice that the most unlikely assertion of a birth place (North Carolina) comes up in the last census in John Wesley Bowie’s lifetime, the 1920 census, taken when he was in his 70s.  And on that census, nobody apparently knew in which state John Wesley’s father had been born.  By 1952, at least one of his sons had no idea where John Wesley Bowie was born.

Given these circumstances, and assuming we’ve looked at all evidence presently available,  I would say that it is reasonable to surmise that John Wesley Bowie was born in Catahoula Parish, Louisiana.   I’m not saying it’s true; I’m saying that it’s logically accurate.

And that’s how we make sense of our world, because there are some (maybe most) “truths” we will never know for certain.

[BTW, my youngest brother was born outside the United States].


One Response to “I Say Tomato, You Say Pearl Onion”

  • Steve Bowie says:

    I’ve felt for quite a while that the 1880 census is the only time they got John Wesley Bowie’s information correct in Texas. Why? It’s the only one (again, in Texas) where they describe him as mulatto. I was able to talk to two of his grandchildren (one of whom was my own grandfather) and they both, independently, described him as a very light skinned (or high yellow) man with straight hair. The 1880 census may have seen the only time he was home to answer the questions as head of household.
    Of course, the census designation of mulatto was subjective and at the whim of the enumerator.

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