But an honest writer will try to fix their mistakes--that's what an erratum is all about. In fact, if the web site you're using as a high-quality reference does NOT have a way to update their materials, you might consider that they're not such a great source. Good newspapers, good reporters, good books all have some way to fix the record.
Let me illustrate by example.
Last week a SearchResearch reader, Joel Meltzer, a former resident of the Oneida Community Mansion House in Oneida, wrote to me to point out that:
At some point someone misunderstood the fact that ANOTHER presidential assassin was an Oneida Community member, and drew the mistaken conclusion that Czolgosz was a member. This was then added to the Oneida Community Wikipedia page. (It has since been removed). The statement repeated over and over again, is that Czolgosz was "briefly a member" of the community. No one ever goes into more detail because there is no detail. It just isn't true. Again, he was just a young boy when the community disbanded and he didn't live in Oneida!
The writer then correctly pointed out that I made this same error in my post on July 22, 2013 post "Answer: What's the connection between President McKinley's assassin and "free love"?"
Well, that's an interesting claim... and I wondered what could have happened.
Luckily, I have pretty good notes about writing that post, so I went back and reconstructed my searches and zeroed in on what went wrong. Here's my reconstruction:
What went wrong The question for that week was "What's the connection between President McKinley's assassin and "free love"?"
In my post, I showed that Searching inside of the Google News Archives, it was simple enough to find multiple references to Noyes use of the phrase "free love." And then a quick look in Google Books for [ Noyes "free love" ] lead me to Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community, Spencer Klaw (1994) where you can find that "in the late summer of 1852, in an article in the Circular [the Colony’s newsletter] he [Noyes] boldly included “Cultivation of Free Love” in a list of principles that the community stood for."
So he's the guy who gave the notion of "Free Love" some currency.
Now, when I looked for a connection to the assassin of President McKinley, I wrote:
"Leon Czolgosz, who shot President McKinley at Pan-American Exposition reception on September 6, 1901. Czolgosz, a native of Michigan and an avowed radical anarchist ( who hung out with people like Emma Goldman) was, for a short time, a member of the Oneida Colony. "
Ever assertion like that needs to come from somewhere, and a good reporter tracks the origin (aka the provenance) of their facts. A great reporter keeps his notes around for years just to be able to revisit questions of fact and inference.
In this case, I had read Cults and Terrorism by Frank MacHovec where he writes
"Charles Guiteau, President Garfield's assassin, was a 5 year Oneida member. Leon Goglsz, for a shorter time, the assassin of President McKinley, was also an Oneida member. (Vowell, 2006)." (emphasis mine)
That's where I got my information. I should have been worried when MacHovec spelled the assassin's name incorrectly (it should be Cgoglsz, not Goglsz). I admit that I did not check the reference to Vowell, 2006, but just assumed that MacHovec represented that information accurately.
Prompted by Joel's question, I pulled out my notes, found the MacHovec citation quickly, and THEN checked (Vowell, 2006), which is by Sarah Vowell (and actually published in 2005 by Simon Schuster). The Google Books link to Vowell's book.
When I downloaded the book (which yes, I had to buy in order to scan completely), I read through every mention of Oneida and every mention of Cgoglsz... and none of them assert that Cgoglsz was a member of Oneida.
So... I assume that MacHovec simply misread the book, or combined notes from different sources together and misplaced Cgoglsz at Oneida.
Since I want to double-source everything, I looked up the Oneida colony history (from multiple sources) and found that they dissolved in 1881 (when Cgoglsz would have been 8 years old). It's pretty clear from the biographies of Cgoglsz that he was working in steel mills from the age of 14, there's just not much possibility that he spent any time at the Oneida Community. (It's also clear from reading a few bios of Cgogslz that he really didn't spend any time at Oneida. Given how much detail these bios have, it's inconceivable that they would have omitted that detail of his life.)
There it is: Leon Frank Czolgosz, born in 1873, assassin of President McKinley, executed by electric chair in 1901, was never a member of the Oneida Community.
On the other hand, Charles Guiteau was, for more than five years, in the Community (he later assassinated President James Garfield), so there is still a story line connecting the ideas. Note that there's no causal relationship here (free love doesn't lead to becoming an assasin), but there is an interesting accident of history that these stories should cross.
I'll go edit the original post to link to this. Erratum duty discharged.
Search on. (Carefully!)