Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version

Fall 2003

Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 25, Number 3, Fall 2003. ISSN 0196-7134

Reprinted from 1980


2003 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


We might as well begin on a note of candor by admitting the worst error we ever made, for of all the things that we would have done differently this surely heads the list. On the errata page of volume 8 appears the note: "Volume 4, p. 309, n. 1. The man wrongly identified as Robert Brown Elliott [a black man] was actually William Elliott, a white man. The letter to BTW, Apr. 25,1898, was from Rev. G. M. Elliott of Beaufort, S.C." Not only had we confused a black man with a white man and another black man, but in a display of erudition we gratuitously had mentioned a letter that Elliott-the wrong Elliott-wrote to Booker T. Washington fourteen years after our own annotation indicated his death date. And they say that dead men tell no tales. At least there were no errata in our erratum. Such a compounding of errors could only have been achieved by a committee. For most of our annotations, we are able to trace back responsibility by checking the raw data notes, but in this case these had mysteriously disappeared. It all reminds us of the famous Nast cartoon about the Tweed ring. It shows a circle of bloated politicians. The caption reads, "Who Stole the People's Money?" Each man is pointing his finger at the man on his left. That is our worst error yet, but we still have to do the cumulative index with its infinite possibilities.

Without trying to explain away an error that gross, we can only say that it is the kind of error that occurred only once, and occurred in spite of our editorial method rather than because of it. Most of the other outright errors were less egregious: misspelled names; failure to annotate at first mention-we now have a system for that; and attributing to the A. M. E. Church what should properly be credited to the A. M. E. Zion Church-there is a man in Atlanta who reads our volumes apparently for no other purpose than to catch any slighting of his church.