Monday, June 25, 2012

My Very First Piece of Conflicting Evidence – and the Resolution

A while ago, while reviewing the data I have about Lodewijk Wesselo for the biography I am writing about him, I found out I have to different dates for when he drew lots to see if he’d be conscripted into the military. I have to admit, when I came across this bit of conflicting evidence I was pretty excited. It’s the very first time I have conflicting evidence and it made me feel like a real genealogist. Of course, I suspect I’d feel a bit different if it wasn’t so easy to solve, but still. It was the first time I could practice conflict resolution with the evidence at hand.

Review the Evidence You Have

The first step was to review the evidence I had for the two dates, and to evaluate the sources for reliability.

Date 1: 1893-1895

This is more a range than an actual date, and one I calculated. In a brief autobiographical sketch of his own life, Lodewijk Wesselo writes: “At age 20, absolved of conscription into the military, he was allowed to engage himself to Elisabeth Lubach.” This was written in 1947 – a long time after the fact. But, I would say it’s fairly reliable, because it’s a sequence of events. Sequences of events are easier to remember than actual dates. Not to mention that it makes sense – to get married you had to prove you did your duty to the military – either by having served or by being absolved.

I then calculated the years in which the drawing of lots could have happened for Lodewijk. He had to have been 18, which he was in 1893, at the minimum. He got engaged to Elisabeth Lubach when he was 20 years old, which would make it the end of 1895 at the earliest and 1896 at the latest. So before about December 1895 he would have had to draw lots.

Date 2: 19 October 1898

In a postcard to his brother, dated 18 October 1949, Lodewijk writes: “Tomorrow 19/10 it is 51 years ago that I was absolved of military service in Leidschendam, together with Lamboy. (Interesting detail: Lamboo (written as Lamboy here) is another ancestral branch on my mother’s side of the family, where Lodewijk is on my father’s side.) Now, 51 years ago would make the date he’s talking about 19 October 1898 – he’d be 22 years old then.

This date is still one year before his wedding with Elizabeth, so theoretically it’s possible, since he wouldn’t have had to prove he’d done his duty yet. But it throws off the sequence of events he mentions in the autobiographical sketch 2 years before. Another thing is that 22 years old seems pretty old to draw lots, usually it was done a lot closer to 18 years of age. But I wasn’t entirely sure how the rules were back in the 19th century.

Another thing that made me suspect this particular date is Lodewijk’s memory. I have a letter written by him on 22 January 1952 – a little over three years later – in which he congratulates his brother with his 58th birthday and apologizes for being late, seeing as he’d forgotten. That’s not the only thing he’s forgotten – his brother turned 68 that year! So that’s a clue that maybe Lodewijk is getting a bit shaky in reliability when it comes to dates.

Historical Background

Mandatory military service in the Netherlands was instigated during the French occupation of the Netherlands by Napoleon’s brother in 1810. Every man that was 20 years or older had to be available to serve. This didn’t mean everybody actually served – until 1898 it was permissible to hire someone else to serve in your stead. After that date this wasn’t permissible anymore. But there were still plenty of reasons for someone not to have to serve. But, we know that in Lodewijk’s case, he was absolved - which means he was eligible to serve but didn’t have to.

This absolution had to do with the number of people called to serve. Not everyone eligible to serve had to do so, but with just volunteers they didn’t get the minimum number of soldiers required by law. Therefore lots were drawn to supplement the number of volunteers. The country was divided into areas and within each area all eligible men were recorded. Each year lots were drawn for that years eligible men and those with bad luck had to serve. Lodewijk was absolved, meaning he was eligible to serve but during the drawing of lots his number was not drawn and he did not have to serve.

I n the period where Lodewijk reached the eligible age, this was the procedure for drawing lots: in January of the year in which a man turned 19 he had to register in the place where his parents lived (even if he wasn’t living there himself). On December 31st the register was closed and then the actual drawing of lots was done between 7 February and 7 March – which would then be in the year a man turned 20. For Lodewijk the registering would have been done in 1894, and the drawing of lots in 1895, as he was born 22 December 1875.

This historical information seems to suggest that the first date is actually correct – and it would in fact be 1895 that Lodewijk was absolved of military service.

Finding Further Evidence

There are two pieces of evidence in which the date Lodewijk was absolved could be found. The first one is the prove of absolution or service that every man had to hand over at the time of his marriage. It’s found the marriage appendix. Unfortunately, in the province Zuid-Holland the only marriage appendixes that have survived are those of the period 1812-1842. Lodewijk was married in 1899, so there’s no appendix in which we can find the date of his absolution.

But, the original source that was used to register eligible men and where the drawing of lots was recorded, the ‘militie-registers’, have survived and are kept at the National Archives in The Hague for Zuid-Holland. And indeed, in the register of 1895, we find Lodewijk Wesselo’s entry, as well as Adrianus Cornelis Lamboo, the Lamboy he’s talking about when he gives the (completely wrong) date in the 1949 letter. 14 December 1894 is the date for all the men in the column “decision”, along with notes like “free – brother service” (for Adrianus Cornelis Lamboo) and Lodewijk has the note “accepted or absolved” there. So that’s the decision of whether they were eligible for service or not. According to the historical information, the actual drawing of lots would then have been between 7 February 1895 and 7 March 1895. Since there are no further notes in the columns dealing with which military department someone who was accepted was stationed at and which date they were done with their service for Lodewijk, it’s clear he was indeed absolved when the lots were drawn in early 1895.

For completeness sake I also searched for Lodewijk’s entry in the 1898 militie-register, and didn’t find him there.

Final Resolution

As I thought when examining the two conflicting sources, the first one was actually the correct one. Lodewijk was absolved of military service in early 1895 (as per the militia-register for the year and historical information for the time of year, between 7 February and 7 March). This was before he got engaged to Elisabeth, as he hadn’t yet turned 20 years old when the lots were drawn. The second source seems to be completely wrong. Not only is the year 1898 wrong, the date of 19 October for the drawing of lots seems to be wrong as well considering the historical data.

Conclusion: Lodewijk Wesselo was absolved from military service between 7 February and 7 March in the year 1895, as corroborated by one direct source and one indirect source. One other indirect source points to a different date, but is wrong on multiple accounts and thus not trustworthy.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the step by step of your conflict resolution process.