Sometimes Sources are WRONG

In two cases, my database was held up and I wasn't able to find information on people because the information I had on them was incorrect, even though that information came from a major source. The main culprit in both cases was a death certificate with incorrect birth information. It's a good idea to use the information from the census just after the person was born if you can find it. Death records are good guides but they can be and are wrong in a lot of situations. Names, birth dates and places, parents' names and burial places can all be suspect. If the person died in the first three months of the year, take a hard look at the date; did someone inadvertantly use the previous year? Tombstones can also be wrong for both birth AND death dates. Not all stones are placed at the time of the burial and are reliant on relatives' memories. Fifteen years ago, I had a stone placed for my great grandmother who died in 1918 using the information from her death certificate. The informant for that certificate was my great grandfather. Was it correct? I hope so. Another great grandfather was the informant for his sister's death certificate and gave her maiden name.

In both of the cases in my family, the death record indicated that the person was a few years older. When I compared census records I found that the subjects generally gave an age that narrowed their birth year to a range of 2 years (i.e. 1856-1858). On the death records, well-meaning children thought they were older. In one case, it meant that my g-g-grandfather was born before the marriage of his parents. So was he born before they married? Was his dad married twice? No, I had used the date from the death certificate instead of calculating it from the census records. The calculated date put him on the safe side of the marriage and I found my g-g-grandmother. It was a puzzle that took me almost 20 years to solve.

These days folks are used to making sure that names and dates are exactly correct but that just wasn't the way of it before about 1950 and you have to be flexible in your use of the information that you do find. My dad told me a funny story about my uncle many years ago and it changed the way I research.

"Pete was sickly when he was born, he only weighed about two pounds and the doctor told Mama and Daddy that he wouldn't live. But he did. He was so little that Mama could put her wedding ring on his arm. She kept him in a boot box stuffed with rags because it was February and still cold and she had to keep him warm. We called him Pete and he was little all his life.

"When Pete was seventeen, he came to live in Houston near us and was showing off his new Social Security card. My sister (who was 12 years older) told him it was wrong because his name wasn't really Pete. We all thought she was kidding but she wasn't. 'Your name is Ira Franklin, after our two grandpas', she told him. So when Pete next visited Mama, he asked, and, sure enough, his name was really Ira Franklin. Mama didn't name him until he was six years old because she wasn't sure he would live and, by then, everyone was used to calling him Pete. Pete is just his nickname."

Every record I have of my young uncle has "Pete" and then it all abruptly changes to Ira Franklin. If I hadn't known him personally, I would have been left wondering what happened to Pete and who is Ira.