Today I found a hole in Wikipedia. Nothing major, but enough to derail my research work for the better part of this morning. I had to dig out old books and cross-reference information to determine not only what the hole was about, but also what should have been in place of the nothing the hole represented.
I’ve been commissioned a short historical article about two women that lived in Turin in the 17th and 19th century respectively. They belonged to the same family, and lived in the same building, but were extremely different for personality and personal history. So I was looking for historical detail to define their actual relationship and to build some kind of bridge between the two. I needed something that could fit two paragraphs and join the two personal histories.
And it turns out the second woman, in the 19th century, married the grandson of the one that died in 1701…
Hold it. The grandson?
- character #1, Elena Matilde, dies in 1701 and leaves three sons.
- character #2, Juliette, marries in 1806 a guy born in 1782 that is supposed to be the grandson of #1
This means that one of the three kids Elena Matilde left behind on the day of her death had a son when he was over 82 years old.
It is quite obvious at least a generation was skipped. And yet the names are correct – the dad of Juliette’s husband is actually called like the Elena’s son.
So, as I said, I dug out a few very old books and started doing research the old way. The most time-consuming part was finding the books in their crates and dig them out, but then… I was covered in dust and cobwebs and sneezing like there was no tomorrow, but there it was staring me in the face on the yellowed page: the two men had the same name because they were grandfather and grandson.
Turns out the Piedmontese aristocracy had this habit of calling the newborn like his grandfather, so that wide stretches of Piedmontese aristocratic genealogy are basically two names alternating through the generations. Rulers had it easy – they were numbered. Everybody else was cause of no end of confusion.
The gap in Wikipedia actually misses two generations. Juliette did not marry Elena’s grandson, but her grandson’s grandson.
Order having been re-established, I wrote my 2000-odd words article and sent it to the editor.
Now I am trying to find out what I need to do to correct Wikipedia.
Because it feels good calling them out on something like this, and it’s even better to set them straight.