Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fact or Fiction

Unfortunately, you can't totally rely on the information you find. Just because a census record indicates that a person was born in a specific location or is a certain age, does not make it so. You must collect various data and combine the information to make an intelligent conclusion.

I have seen many census records which the parents have given ages, even specific years of birth and have found out later that the information was incorrect. I have also seen census records where the person themselves have given information such as state born only to find out it is incorrect. DONT RELY ON ONE PIECE OF INFORMATION. I don't know whether the census takers were overwhelmed and lost interest in collecting the information properly or perhaps there was miscommunication because of language barriers. Whatever the reason census records are a wonderful resource but not necessarily reliable.

Birth certificates are a great tool, however, depending upon the era of the birth, may not have correct birthdates. Remember, children were born in the home. Usually a doctor was not present. The birth was recorded when the family member decided to go to the town hall and record it. This could be days, weeks, months and sometimes never. There will be times that a birth certificate can't be located. That doesn't mean that the person was not born in that town, it just means that it wasn't recorded.

Death certificates on the other hand were handled by the doctors usually. While the cause of death (which by the way you should take the era into consideration) and probably the date is correct, additional information such as place of birth may not be. This information could have been given by a family member, friend, or neighbor.

Marriage certificates can be a wealth of information. If you are lucky enough to find one that was actually filled out by the person themselves, it can contain information not only on the couple but their parents as well. Marriage certificates are usually pretty reliable.

Census data can not only lead you in a direction for year of birth and location but can also lead you to additional family members. I had thought that my great grandfather came to the US alone because I had not found anything to tell me otherwise until I discovered the 1900 census and found a nephew that was locally born living with them. However, on that same census, two of the children listed had birth years that were incorrect. Once again, if I hadn't already collected information prior to this that gave me accurate birth dates, I would have though I had struck the jackpot.

Draft registration cards are now becoming available on the internet. Not only can you get birth information, residence, and marital status, you can also find out how tall your ancester was, what the color of his hair and eyes were, and if there were any visible scars, etc. WOW!

When you get the cemetary information from the death record, verify it. My great grandparents first born child died when he was only a month old. When I contacted the cemetary, they couldn't initially find him. It wasn't until I pushed the issue that I found out my great grandfather never paid the cemetary and two months after the child was buried, he was moved to a potters grave. Unfortunately, they couldn't tell me exactly where that grave was located. I guess in those days, they didn't find it important to record the information of the poor. I had found a cemetary deed in my mothers papers. It was to a cemetary that I wasn't familiar with. When I contacted the cemetary I was told that the grave did not have any record of a burial. Later I found out that my mother's sister that had died when she was 6 weeks old was buried in that cemetary. I can only assume that she is in the plot to which I now hold the deed. Is there anyone else buried with her? I could go on and on.

I have given you a lot of information about physical evidence that should be carefully considered as fact but what is probably the most dangerous source of false evidence won't be found on paper. We have become so comfortable with computers and the internet. Most people believe everything that they read on the internet. I frequently search for other researchers that may be researching my family tree in hopes of finding long lost cousins. I have on several occasions found people that have either taken my family tree as their own without any true connection or have taken a portion of my tree and combined it with their own. This can be very dangerous. There is a family tree on ancestry.com that has my great grandparents with children that do not belong to them. PLEASE PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. Do not try to take the shortcut of adopting someone elses research. Their negligence could ultimately become your downfall.

Check back as I start to explore some of the resources available to you on the internet.

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