Homework Question o’ the Month

Question: I want to write a report on Zerelda “Zee” Mimms James, the wife of Jesse James, but I’m having trouble finding information in DBRL’s databases. Can you help me?

Answer: Once in a while, the DBRL databases may not cover a topic that you’re researching. There are print sources that can help answer this question, but this is a good chance to talk about how to evaluate web pages. Here are a few quick things to keep in mind:
1. Look at the credentials of the author and/or organization hosting the information, often found on “About Us” or Bio” pages. When you’re researching well-known people from Missouri, try using the Historic Missourians page of the State Historical Society of Missouri’s website. This is a reputable organization specializing in Missouri history, and the page has an entry devoted to Zee.

2. Look at the bibliography: if the author has consulted a range of credible sources, it’s more likely that he or she is providing good quality information. This essay on Zee was written by a Missouri college student as part of William Jewel College’s creative nonfiction program. Even though the student is not an expert, she has consulted multiple published resources, and because it’s for a college class a professor probably reviewed her essay, too.

3. Beware of collaborative community content sites, such as Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers. It’s hard to know how accurate the information is since credentials and citations are often missing or incomplete. Wikipedia is a neat resource, but it’s best used for certain purposes, like getting a general understanding of a topic or as a starting point for research. It’s usually not a good idea to use Wikipedia as a reference source.

Evaluating the information that you find online can be complicated, and these are just a few things to keep in mind. For more information, try the following links:

Fun fact:
Did you know that Jesse James’ wife and mother had the same name?  Jesse’s wife, nicknamed “Zee,” was born Zerelda Mimms. Zee’s parents named her after Jesse’s mother, Zerelda (Cole) James. (Zee and Jesse were first cousins, so their families were close.) When Jesse and Zee got married, Zee became Zerelda (Mimms) James.

When you’re researching people with similar or identical names, paying attention to birth dates can make finding accurate info easier. In this case, Jesse’s mother was born in 1825, but Jesse’s wife wasn’t born until 1845.

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