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Critical Assessment of Primary and Secondary Sources

Discussion

Now that you have read the newspaper articles, see if your answers are similar to those that are on this page. 

1. What happened?

  • The 20 newspaper articles tell us that a male was convicted of murdering a female. He was tried twice, and found guilty both times of first degree murder. The second trial was ordered by the Massachusetts Supreme court after it was decided that the judge in the first trial erred judicially. The accused was subsequently sentenced to the electric chair. 

2. What stands out about the accused and the victim? 

  • How many many variations of the names of the victim and accused did you find? There are a recorded 21 names (first and last) between the two of them
First Last
Victim Diana, Tanko, Domka, Donka Bialaski, Bitelsky, Bialaska, Peremebida, Peremjbida
Accused Tony, Antone, Anton, Philip, Toney Retkevich, Reskevich, Retkovitz, Peremybida, Balkewicz, Reckovitz, Rektovitz
  • Without extensive genealogical research, it is quite difficult to confirm what the actual names of the victim and accused were. Based on knowledge of Slavic and Russian naming practices, one informed guess is that they may have been Domna or Domnika (Domna is a diminutive for both) Pereymybida or Bialaska (female ending of the name Bialaski); and Anton Retkovich 
  • Why do you think there were so many variations? Do you think the reporters knew Russian? Could some of the minor spelling variants have occurred as a result of newspaper print setting practices at the time?

3. Who were the majority population in Fall River during this time period and do you think this had an impact on the case and/or how it was reported? 

  • The 1910 Census Abstract for Massachusetts reports that Fall River had a total population of 119,295 and the percentage of the population that identified as being foreign born (and white) and with foreign born (white) parents was as follow (top five nationalities):
    1. French Canadian: 31.1% 
    2. England: 21.9%
    3. Ireland: 14.7%
    4. Portugal: 13.3%
    5. Russia: 3.4%
  • Note that the Russian population was predominantly Orthodox Jewish, while the other dominant faiths in Fall River were Roman Catholic (French Canadians, Irish, Portuguese) and Protestant (English). 

4. Did you find anything else unusual about this case? 

  • You may have different questions, but these are mine!  
    • What exactly was the "relationship status" between Domka and Anton? Were they or weren't they a couple? Did he really have a wife in Russia? 
    • How much English did Anton know? 
    • Was Inspector Bogan a reliable witness? 
    • Was Mike Begara a reliable translator? 

Reading the articles

You may have noticed that some of the articles were incomplete. In addition, not all published articles were included as part of this exercise. This happened for a few reasons:

  • the original clipping did not include the complete article;
  • the original clipping was damaged, and content had been lost;
  • the article had multiple parts and some were not found in the microfilmed/digitized newspaper;
  • they were intentionally left out to make you think about this question ;-) 

This lack of completeness is something you should be thinking about, and should have you asking:

  • is there information I'm missing because I didn't read the complete article, or all of the articles published about the case? 
  • would my understanding of what happened in this case be different if I hadn't know that there was a first or a second trial? 

The answers to these questions should make you realize that when you are doing primary source research, particularly in newspapers, it is crucial that you read the complete article, and that you follow the story from beginning to end. Following the story is not always easy, as you may not have dates to look up, or knowledge that the story continues past the "expected" end. 

Possible primary sources

If you were to research, and write, a paper about this case, it would be strongly recommended that you base your analysis of the events using more than just newspaper articles. What would you consider a reliable source of primary information? Remember that the vast majority of primary sources are not digitized, so it is not a good idea to only rely on what you are able to find through the Internet. You will need to contact librarians and archivists to help you find additional primary sources. 

These are some possible additional primary sources (click on the c0ver to see the entry for this case):