Thursday, July 9, 2009

Exact Science - - You’re Kidding, Right??

After my post, Sourcing? anyone really sourcing? And Sourcing? anyone really sourcing? Post Script, fellow researcher Amy wrote me. She told me a great story about her mother going to the Vital Records office to get certificates. Seems her grandfather’s birth certificate had a few discrepancies on it. Name was recorded as James, she knew him as Julius (even tho he really did not like the name and never used it). His birth date was recorded as August 30th, he celebrated his birthday on the 29th.

Goodness, how could this have happened?? Maybe the doctor or whomever reported the birth recorded it weeks later and just messed up the date. Same could be true for the name.

But, her email got me to thinking of all the other documents we use in our sport and how many errors I have found in them. So, here is a partial list, without too much trouble I am sure I could think of more.

Census reports - - have heard there is a 20% error rate in them. Ages wrong, names wrong, initials, and just plain ole MIA’s.

Obituaries - - I have one where I am reported to be the great grandSON of the deceased, much to the delighted snickering of my researching friends. Names are constantly mis-spelled in obituaries. Survivors names are left out of the obituary. My own grandmother, had three survivors, the obituary gives our places of residence wrong, for all three of us.

Headstones - - remember, ZZ Treembo, errr, ZZ Trumbo. Inscriptions are not foolproof, they are usually done by a human, humans make errors.

Death certificates - - missing information, names of parents wrong, names of parents may not even be given, wrong cemeteries listed for place of burial. I have several death records from the same county where the informant was the son of the deceased. The record shows the son’s name as the name of the parent of the deceased. Confused, YEAAAA. Took me weeks to figure out that mess. Could not wrap my poor brain around it!

Birth certificates - - how many have you seen where the child was not even named?

Marriage records/certificates - - again, names, even of the parties to be married, are often found mis-spelled. Parents names of the happy couple are listed as, N/A. Love that, don’t you?? Really love the marriage applications with no returns, so it appears the marriage never took place. Gotta wonder, did they live in sin, or really get married.

And, my all time favorite is the Family Bible. Please don’t think they are 100% foolproof, because, they are NOT! Sometimes the event was not recorded right away, dates became confused, then sadly recorded wrong. I have a southern family, where each child recorded their parent's birth dates, marriage date, death dates, they even recorded the dates of their sibling’s births. So, there any number of Family Bibles floating around, all for the same family. Are you surprised to hear, the dates don’t agree?

Bottom line, this is NOT an exact science, we do the best we can with all these different dates, and move on.

However, all this said, I am still gonna use the death certificate information as I discussed on my Sourcing? anyone really sourcing? blog. I prefer that information, even with errors. I have learned that dates I questioned probably came from cemetery records, or a transcription of records. Oh, well, that is a subject for a blog for another day. Errors in published works. Oh, my!

1 comment:

Greta Koehl said...

I like using several sources with conflicting information and then trying to figure out on that basis what the truth is, or something close to it. Did a blog article on a Brinlee ancestor with different dates of birth given for him & how I figured out the actual date. For another Brinlee ancestor every source but one gave Aug 1900 as his DOB; only the 1900 census gave Aug 1899 - but the census was correct, otherwise he wouldn't have appeared on it....