Tips from the Pros: “‘Official’ Doesn’t Always Mean Accurate,” from Michael John Neill

Remember that “official” does not always mean accurate. My grandmother’s 1910 birth certificate (which I believe to be accurate) provides a different place of birth for her than those given on her marriage license and death certificate. One would give more credence to the birth certificate as in this case it is the most contemporary record of her birth in existence.

Delayed birth certificates, while official documents, can still be incorrect. In some instances, these documents were filled out by a mother who provided the wrong date of birth for her child. In this case my “proof” that it was wrong consisted of the fact that the date was different from the one listed on the christening record and the fact that the mother apparently mixed up this daughter’s date of birth with that of another child.

Even investigators can make mistakes. A postal investigator looking into a relative in 1900 indicated that the relative was born in Kansas. Virtually every other available document on the relative in question indicated he was born in Illinois. The investigator reasonably concluded the relative was born where he had lived since he was approximately ten years old.

It always pays to obtain multiple sources whenever possible and to compare. One document can easily be wrong and lead you down the wrong research path.

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13 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: “‘Official’ Doesn’t Always Mean Accurate,” from Michael John Neill

  1. How very true! My mother always insisted she was born April 19, 1910. That was the date we celebrated every year. Her original birth cert. had been lost when a pipe broke and flooded the basement of the local courthouse where all the records were stored. Recently I was reading the 1910 and 1920 Census for Reno Co KS. Her parents were listed on the 1910 Census without children. When they were listed in 1920, there was my mother, 9 yrs old. She had unwittingly added a year to her age!

  2. As an added note, My fathers birth certificate, original in Dr’s hand writing gave his sex as female, no “delayed” recording. This was carried thru out his life. He went through the military, airforce. It was not until he went to retired, he got this “you can’t be, because she was ‘Female’” Which was a surprise to him. Note “he” is still alive.

  3. Most records from the early years are handwritten and not always clear so as they add databases one should be able to connect the dots and get pretty accurate information. Just learn to be flexible with the spelling and dates. Actually the search can be part of the fun.

  4. Every tree I’ve seen that mentions my great-grandfather says he died Feb. 24, 1908, and his headstone says the same. Then I got his death certificate and it said Feb. 15, 1908 was the date. I was cursing the record keepers until I found three newspaper articles placing his death on the 15th. Two of those articles were published before the 24th so I’m going with the 15th.

    Now I’m left to wonder who had the headstone made with the wrong date on it.

  5. When my Father had to produce a birth certificate for work, he wrote to the State of Kansas and discovered that all the information under his name was for his brother who was two years older. The country doctor had forgotten to send in my uncle’s record of birth and got the two boys confused when he finally did send the information to the state. It took months to get the information straightened out and even a notorized note from his parents was not accepted. School and Church records were found, and by dropping his middle name, my Father finally received his birth certificate.

  6. I have to agree whole heartedly about errors in data. My own namesake grandmother always gave Massachusetts as her birth state, thinking that her half brother was her brother, and that was where he was born. Not so. Her father had moved to Wisconsin and remarried after his #1 wife had died. And Myra Worthington Spaulding was born in Centralia Wisconsin, along with 2 of her brothers, and the 3rd brother was born in Alpena, Michigan! I believe she died not really knowing who she was in relation to her family, and where she was from!

  7. JUST ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE “I AGREE” VOTES HERE!! WHEN PUTTING TOGETHER MY GRANDPARENTS CENSUS RECORDS – WOW, THE NAMES THEY’RE LISTED UNDER..LOL. JOHN HAS SHOWN UP AS IVAN, AND JNO. LEPPER HAS PRODUCED INTERESTING SPELLINGS, LIKE LEPER, LOPER, LEEPER, AND LAPER – ALL OF WHO ARE MY RELATIVES WHEN LOOKING AT THIER FIRST NAMES. AS FOR DATES OF BIRTH, HERE’S MY OPINION. WE HAVE JANUARY – DECEMBER, AND SHOULD ADD TO THE LIST – abt..
    I HAVE ALSO FOUND THAT THE TRUTH WAS NOT ALWAYS TOLD. MY GRANDMOTHER STATES SHE WAS 18 ON HER MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE – SHE WAS 16. A GRANDFATHER HAD SEVERAL NAMES ON HIS 2-MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES. JUST LIKE HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE, AND HIS PARENTS NAMES CHANGED- NICK NAMES AND ABREVIATION; TRY LOOKING FOR A C.J. – AND THEN CORY, CARRIE, OR CORYDON! THEN ASK, WHO WAS HE, AND WAS HE?
    ANOTHER JOURNEY I HAVE FOUND INTERESTING, ARE THE CENSUS. THEY ARE 10 YEAR SPANS, AND 20 YEARS BECAUSE 1890 WAS DISTROYED. FOUND MY GGRANDPARENTS IN ONE STATE AND 10YRS LATER, IN ANOTHER. HE HAS ONE WIFE AND THEN ANOTHER. THE FUN PART IS GOING BACK-N-FORTH…FEWIE, WHAT A CHORE. IT ALL PANS OUT, AND IS ALOT OF WORK. IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW, YOU GO FOR IT. IN MY CASE, A LONG “REWARDING” JOURNEY. I HAVE EVEN FOUND A COUSIN IN AUSTRALIA! TO SOME THAT MAY NOT SEEM AMAZING BECAUSE OUR RELATIVE COME FROM OTHER COUNTRIES. BUT, TO ME ITS SOMETHING SPECIAL, SHE’S A LIVING COUSIN. I HAVEN’T FOUND TO MANY OF THEM.
    SINCERELY, CHARLIERUNNER

  8. For 30 years our family used the records found in an old family bible that belonged to a sibling as the birth dates and birth places of our ancestors. In doing research we could not find tax records in that county in the time period the first 7 children were born. On a hunch we searched in another county far away and found them in their tax records. The bible had belonged to a sibling who entered the information as he thought he remembered, but it was not accurate.

  9. This is so true. I was researching my great grandfather, Chief Samuel William Brown, Jr., a Heriditery and elected Chief of the Yuchi/Creek Native Americans and discovered three different dates of his birth. I had different dates from his Cemetery Record, WW I Draft Registration, date he gave Historians and… his age of 19 listed on the 1890 Big Spring Town census Record on page 44. I am more inclined to go with the last date as the correct age as this was a United States Federal Census. He was born in Bixby, Oklahoma and died in Mathis, San Patricio, Texas. I try to get as many records of an ancestor that I can find to compare dates, etc. As a person ages, some details are sometimes not as accurate as records from their early age. I’m more inclined to follow a Town Census Record and consider it to be the most accurate. You can never have too many records for an ancestor. The more you find, the more details you can discover.

  10. FYI: There is an ILLINOIS, Nemaha County, kansas!

    “Even investigators can make mistakes. A postal investigator looking into a relative in 1900 indicated that the relative was born in Kansas. Virtually every other available document on the relative in question indicated he was born in Illinois.”

  11. Thanks for the information about Illinois, Nemaha, Kansas. The individual referenced in the tip is from a family that luckily is fairly well-documented and appears with his family in at least one census in Illinois before the family’s trek to the state of Kansas.
    Michael

  12. I love this. It may seem silly, but for ages we celebrated my brother’s birth a day late simply because his birth was terribly complicated leaving my mother in the hospital for weeks while my father was on another coast truck driving. I was only two and under the care of my great grandmother, who at the time was near 80 so for his younger years we always celebrated his birth on September 15th. It wasn’t until he needed a copy of his birth certificate to get his driver’s license that we found his birthday was on September 14th.

  13. My mother said her mother was born at Belleville, Ontario. That was what was stated in her funeral booklet. After I started doing genealogy I found that she, my grandmother, claimed, on several of her children’s marriage certificates including my mother’s, that her place of birth was Copetown, Ontario. Copetown is near Hamilton, Ontario. I’ve found no record of the family’s ever having lived near Belleville. I can only suppose someone, at the time of her death, remembered that she was born near some large town in Ontario and came up with Belleville. No one else remembered either and it wasn’t challenged.

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