Keep your family story from veering off course -- watch out for these nine pitfalls when researching or writing about your roots.
There were no starlings in Mississippi in 1874, but I didn't know that when I wrote a narrative history of my Ring ancestors. That year, their country store burned down and the insurance company, insisting the cause was arson, refused to pay the claims. So the Rings sued. I took pains to compose a vivid description of the trial in Vicksburg for my book Only a Few Bones
I had pages of information from the legal packet in the Warren County courthouse. I visited the building where the proceedings took place. From the Vicksburg Daily Times, I learned it rained off and on during the trial. "Attorneys, litigants and witnesses exit the courtroom, descend the long iron staircase, and step out onto the portico," I wrote. "Lighting a cigar or pipe, or tucking a plug of tobacco inside the lower lip, the men watch the starlings poking in the rain-saturated lawn."
Shortly after the book came out, I received an e-mail from an ornithologist. Starlings were introduced into the United States from England in 1890, she wrote. The first recorded sighting of a starling in Mississippi is in the late 1890s.