Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Family History Hints, Part 9

Explaining to non-genealogists why something as basic as a birth date can be a source of contention and/or confusion is not that easy. Today, knowing when and where we were born seems obvious, but life wasn't always that easy.

            Why do some people have different birth dates and places listed?

Birth dates are recorded on many different records throughout a person’s life. Obviously, a birth certificate lists the birth date and place, but, as discussed before, a delayed birth certificate might have erroneous information. A baptismal certificate often lists the birth date. If the family kept the records in a family Bible, the information may be recorded there as well. Sometimes, especially if the Bible is kept by a more distant relative who may not have received the information at the time of the event, it might be off by a day or two. Sometimes people “update” the family dates at a single time and when that happens, the data is particularly suspect (this we can usually assess when the writing is in the same hand, with obviously the same pen - ink faded at the same rate when dates may be 50 or even more years apart). Later in a person’s life, the birth date (and often place) is recorded on a marriage registration (license or certificate); if the person getting married lies about it (a birth certificate is required these days, but was not necessarily requested back in the early 1900s, the 1800s, or earlier), the married couple might fudge a little (a girl who is underage might lie that she is older; but an older woman getting married - especially for the first time - might say she is younger [both my grandmothers, who were significantly older than their respective husbands, said they were a few years younger]).

Whenever the Census was taken (Federal, State, or special - see one of the earlier posts), the ages of the household members were recorded. If the person giving the information didn’t know, then the date might end up being way off from the actual birth year. (If either grandfather had reported the ages of their wives, my grandmothers, they would definitely have been in error.)

When people fill out other documents (e.g., military draft, service, and pension records), they are asked for their birth dates and places. Sometimes (e.g., when parents are married only a few short months before the first child arrives, they actually “move back” the birth date of the child - at least, they tell their child that false date to keep from the embarrassment). So some people think they are a year younger than they actually are!

When a person dies, the SSDI (Social Security Death Index) often lists the birth date plus the obituary and death certificate also list the birth date. It is also often engraved on the tombstone. Those are all sources we look to to get a hint of a person’s birth date, but I have an ancestor who had about four totally different birth dates, depending on the record I examine (christening record, passport, marriage record, and death documents). So the genealogist has to evaluate all of the records and determine which, if any, are accurate. End result: often, confusion!

No comments:

Post a Comment