Understanding 'Dit' Names
How to Record Conflicting Information

How Accurate Are Vital Records?

Finding a birth, marriage, or death certificate for an ancestor is every genealogists' dream. They often provide the most genealogical information about an ancestor. I was in genealogy heaven when I found the marriage certificate for Nathan R. BROWN. It listed his parents, and even his mother's maiden name. Finding a death record is just as exciting - they often list birth dates, places, parents' names, etc.

However, some of the information provided in a document like this is not primary information. Much of it is secondary. The primary information in a death certificate would include the date and place of death. This information was recorded at the time of the event. Secondary information in this record would include the person's birth information and even the names of the parents. The person filling out the death certificate (the informant) could have been the 2nd wife of the decedant, or even a grandchild - both of whom may not be 100% certain of the dates and places.

Take David McCall's marriage record for example. The 1889 certificate listed his marriage to Anna E. Young as happening on May 2. This puzzled me because their marriage license was dated May 31 - some 29 days later. Doesn't the license usually come before the marriage? I then searched the newspapers and found an article about their marriage. It actually took place on June 2. Wouldn't you think that the marriage date on a marriage certificate would be correct? In this case, it was not.

Several years ago, I filled out the information for my first son's birth certificate. It had a space to fill in where the father (me) was born. I filled in Oregon - the state where I grew up. It wasn't until a couple of months later when I realized that I made a mistake. I wasn't born in Oregon, I was born in Utah. I goofed on my own son's birth certificate.

The Moral

Be sure to verify an event from more than one source. I have documents that list Asa BROWN's birth as being in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and even Kentucky. If I relied on only one source I may never have found his parents.

Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian has 13 guidelines for analyzing evidence. Number three explains that . . .

. . . evidence should be drawn from a variety of independently created sources. . . . It is sometimes argued . . . that a point is "proved" only if we have three, four, or five sources that report the same fact. But there is no magic number. The crucial issues are the reliability of the sources, the origins of their information, and the thoroughness with which we use all the available material. (Evidence, page 48)

For more information about Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian, or to order, click here.

In thorough research, you will undoubtedly find conflicting information. Just how do you record this in Legacy? Click here to keep reading. . . .


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