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Belated corrections to 1899 obituary

Published: 7/13/2011
Online obituaries have an advantage over obits in print publications when it comes to errors.

If one of the surviving siblings is accidentally left out of the information that the funeral home or family provides to the newspaper, mourners usually have to wait until the next day for a corrected version to run.

Sometimes, when the error appears in a reporter-written obit, the missing relative will be noted in a list of corrections, along with fixes to stories about politics, business and crime. The sibling will forever after be missing from the beautifully written obit, which the family may cut out of the paper and tuck into the family Bible.

Errors in obits, however, can be fixed in updated versions of the stories on the Internet – even if those mistakes surface years later.

Corrections to the obit for Lt. M.K. Schwenk, which was published in the New York Times on June 29, 1899, appeared 112 years later in an elaborate story written by James Barron.

Barron wrote: “It’s a tad late” to bring them up, said Dr. Schwenk, who found the obituary online.

But it is never too late to set the record straight. If journalism is indeed the first rough draft of history, there is always time to revise, polish and perfect, even if pinning down the details about Lieutenant Schwenk after so many years turned out to be less than straightforward.


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This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer who lives in Northeast Ohio. She is director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.

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