In another of our continuing series on learning genealogy methodology from detectives, this week we explore the advice of the great Los Angeles Police Department detective, Sergeant Joe Friday.
Joe Friday is one of the most well-known fictional members of the LAPD ever. Created by actor-producer Jack Webb, Joe Friday started life on the radio with Dragnet in 1949. Two years later, it made the transition to television, running for eight years. Dragnet returned in 1967 and ran until 1970. Generations of American instantly recognize the introductory music and the phrases that started each episode.
“The story you are about to see is true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
This was included because to the viewers, some of the stories they saw stretched credulity. As genealogists, we run into this situation continually. But just because something stretches believability there is no reason to instantaneously dismiss it. The proper way to treat possibilities for solutions is to rate them from most probable to least likely. Saying that a scenario is least likely is not the same as dismissing it. You should continue to research and look for more evidence. As you find more information, you will likely slide different hypothesis around on the scale.
“This is the city. Los Angeles, California.”
The big three of real estate: location, location, location! One of the reasons that producers explained where Dragnet took place was so that viewers would understand why some of the stories unraveled they way they did, or why some of them even occurred at all. It is important to be aware of where you are researching. Then, understand the resources and records that are available for research in this location.
“My name is Friday — I carry a badge.”
In genealogy, knowing who you are looking for, and what they do for a living, is critical. Occupation is one way to differentiate your ancestor from another person with the same name. If you are fortunate, they will follow different professions. This will give you the opportunity to know which records pertain to your ancestor, and which pertain to another individual of the same name.
Far beyond these words, however, the most instantaneously recognizable phrase associated with Joe Friday is:
“Just the facts, Ma’am.”
Now, there are two reasons why this phrase is pertinent to genealogy. First, obviously, is that we are obsessed with facts. We use facts from records to prove or disprove our theories. Our research is filled with a search for facts.
But more importantly, this phrase is the perfect example of how we must be very careful in our research. Just because someone said something, it is not necessarily true. The truth is, Joe Friday never uttered that phrase. It actually comes from a parody by satirist Stan Freberg. What Joe Friday really said was “All we want are the facts, Ma’am,” or the slight variation “All we know are the facts, Ma’am.”