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Childhood Memory; Is it dependable or accurate over time?

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  • Childhood Memory; Is it dependable or accurate over time?

  • #2
    I can't remember


    • #3
      Only when it comes to your sibling's excruciatingly vivid retelling of your most embarrassing moment ever.


      • #4
        It varies on an individual basis and also depends on what the memory is 'of'.


        • #5
          Absolutely no memories are accurate. Eye witness testimonies are often wrong and disproved by DNA or other evidence.

          I am an amateur Historian and one of the first thing you learn is that all those oral histories collected from "old timers" are bunk. They will claim to remember anything but, when you get back to good source documentation you often find that the "old-timers" have sent you off on a wild goose chase.

          I was working on a project for the local historical society when some idiot decided he was going to one up the historical societies publication by doing the research himself and publishing it in bits and pieces in the community newspaper. He interviewed people who claimed their grandparents had told them the story of how a local highway man became notorious for murdering miners and steeling their gold. The newspaper published the information before we had a chance to based on these interviews and oral histories.

          I got the names, then looked up birth records of those claiming to remember the Henry Plummer gang. The oldest was born in 1903; Henry Plummer, the highway in question, was hung in 1861.

          Bottom line the people claiming to remember the rain of terror never did the math because the oldest wasn't born until nearly 40 years after the man in question had died. It was pointed out that the persons in question had contributed an oral history to the Historical Society in 1986, before they died. We found the oral histories and attached notes that read, "NOT ACCURATE." The newspaper refused to run a retraction of the story and now the community thinks they know the history of the area, when they really haven't got a clue, all because they relied on some old-coots memory.


          • NeverAnEagle
            NeverAnEagle commented
            Editing a comment
            Useful in that the person can tell you what they typically ate for dinner. Not useful when it comes to actual real life facts. Old men will claim they fought in several battles in WWII when they were really 4F. Old women will claim that they had to start the laundry at 2 AM for "Washing Wednesdays" when the electric company records show that "Washing Wednesday" electricity didn't come on until 4:30 AM.

            I'm working on a book right now and discussed this very frustration with our state historian. He said if you want good information you really need to stay away from the oral histories. Old folks get alzthimers and dementia. Young ones don't relay memories accurately either.

          • Peregrinator
            Peregrinator commented
            Editing a comment
            Isn't there a difference between exaggeration and lying on the one hand, and having an inaccurate memory on the other? That someone claims to have fought in a battle he didn't actually fight in does not at all imply that the memories of that battle of someone who actually fought in it are inaccurate.

          • NeverAnEagle
            NeverAnEagle commented
            Editing a comment
            It doesn't matter whether the memory is an exaggeration or a lie--
            Memories are inaccurate and you need accuracy when trying to record history.

        • #6
          I'm in the amateur camp when it come to history, but even highly documented historical evidence can be suspect. Take a look at old photographs of people back in the 1860's. That is NOT how they dressed every day. They wear the "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" clothes for the photographs. Unless one takes that into consideration, it can skew history quite a bit. Even then the expression "The whole 9 yards" has 3 or 4 different historical basis attached to it.

          Even in my family there was family-lore about one of my relatives getting lost at Ellis Island when the family immigrated to the US. Well, extensive research on my part shows that they immigrated into the Port of Milwaukee and was never in New York. Nobody got lost either.

          A good historian will rely on 2-3 different sources of information and even then remain skeptic on it's validity.

          Of course we don't know the details of Custer's Last Stand. There were no survivors. Yeah sure, anyone bother to ask the thousands of warriors what happened? Yep, they did, but their accounts of the events were discredited because they weren't white. Mrs. Custer made sure of that.

          A lot of time it's an issue of not remembering correctly and then there's the issue of purposeful distorting. Both skew the results of any issue.



          • #7
            This article focuses on testimony on past events, that also has issues. False memories are easily implanted, as proven in Beth Loftus' work. There are ways to get information from people about the past, but it takes very careful questioning to ensure that you don't push the witness down a particular path.

            As for memories of the past, we also tend to remember the happier times (there is research on that too). We are good at blocking out the bad times, and remembering the good ones.


            • #8
              I learned what DDT smelled like when I was three years old. About 60 years later while cleaning an old shed, we stumbled onto an unmarked container. I recognized the smell immediately. I was dead-on accurate when the HazMat people did the determination of what it was.

              When I was three years old, I hid a toy in a hole in the wall of my grandmother's house. Fifty years later when we were about to repair part of the house I remembered doing that. I showed exactly where to break the plaster and there my toy was, just the way I left it. I had described what it was, its color, and how big. Dead on accurate.

              But ask me where I left my keys and I'll have to give you an estimate with some statistical probability. What color is my t-shirt? I have no idea.


              • #9
                Speaking as one of those old coots who is also a historical researcher, I can tell you for sure that oral history memories are always highly suspect. For years, I told a personal story about an event of no real significance that was fictional. The story started when I was in high school. I was in Germany and visited a base where Elvis Presley was stationed at the time. I visited the PX there and thought how great it would be to see Elvis there. So I told all my friends I had seen Elvis at the PX. To this day, I can remember seeing Elvis at the PX. I could probably pass a lie detector test, but I do know that it wasn't true.


                • #10
                  There are times when I can't help smiling.

                  Her Who Must Be Obeyed will be telling or re-telling one of our many family stories and I know for a fact that she has it "Not right."

                  One great thing about being Her Who Must Be Obeyed is that you never have to admit to ever being wrong.

                  I honestly do believe that she believes that what she is saying is the truth and she has nothing to gain or lose from what she is saying.

                  While maybe there are times when she might be impressing someone? A lot of times the stories go the other way and do anything but impress.

                  I'm not sure why? But when a group of us get to standing around the embers of a campfire and telling war stories.

                  It very often seems that there are a lot more stories about me, things I've done, things that have gone wrong and situations that I've got myself into than anyone else.

                  None of these stories are lies. Some have been embellished over the years.

                  But what gets me is when I tell someone that what they are saying isn't what happened. They inform me that I'm wrong!!

                  I'm OK with having more mishaps then most people.

                  Mainly because I think that I'm more willing to try stuff that others shy away from. ( That and having a child like sense of fun and wonderment.)

                  I do believe that some people can if they stick to something long enough believe that it's true.

                  I know a guy who is a convicted murderer. He has been locked up for over 30 years.

                  To this day he believes that he is going to get a new trial because the jury wasn't sworn in.

                  Of course I wasn't at the trial, but my thinking is that even if the jury hadn't been sworn in?

                  It doesn't take 30 years to fix.



                  • packsaddle
                    packsaddle commented
                    Editing a comment
                    This really resonates with me. I have heard family members recounting to others some of the things I've done over the years. Some of them were actually flattering, lol. Anyway, I've gotten to the point where I listen to their inaccuracies and to exaggerations that we both know are not exactly the way it happened, and I just let it go. It's interesting to watch these things evolve. Heck, if these stories are good enough who knows....someday I might evolve into a performer of miracles in some cockamamie religion or something.

                • #11
                  Originally posted by jblake47 View Post
                  I'm in the amateur camp when it come to history, but even highly documented historical evidence can be suspect. Take a look at old photographs of people back in the 1860's. That is NOT how they dressed every day. They wear the "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" clothes for the photographs. Unless one takes that into consideration, it can skew history quite a bit. Even then the expression "The whole 9 yards" has 3 or 4 different historical basis attached to it.
                  I always like those vintage photos of people dressed typically for their time period, with one anomalously dressed person who looks like a time traveller dressed for our time, like this 1940 with what looks like a time-travelling hipster in the crowd: