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Errors and inconsistencies abound in genealogy...some are more serious than others. At the very least, they provide can provide a much-needed laugh. The more serious errors enable us to become better researchers by forcing us to look for additional evidence to back up what we "know" to be the case. At worst, they encase the story behind brick walls topped by barbed wire and broken glass...but what a wonderful feeling when we can break through.

One of the more frustating experiences with my first DAR application surrounded what I thought was an easy generational connection between my mother and her parents. Mom's birth, marriage, death certificates all listed her parents, including her mother's maiden name, all spelled consistently. Grandma died in a terrible accident when mom was 5, but grandma's death certificate named grandpa as her husband, named her parents, etc. I had the family Bible with their marriage date, but no official certificate was available. I had census records of grandma and grandpa from 1920, but mom wasn't born yet; the 1930 census had mom with grandpa living with his second wife. Obviously, grandpa's death certificate had his living widow, not one who had died 50 years before. I had cemetery records and photos of their graves.

None of this was "good" enough in the mind of my mentor, I needed to find an obituary that named all of the kids, her husband, her parents, etc etc. ???? Cause we all know how accurate newspapers are.

Well, I am a determined researcher, and found a donnybrook of newspaper articles and obituaries -- let me tell you, if you think the cable networks focus too much on gory details...well they had good teachers. Anyway, I found a couple of pretty good obituaries with all the requisite information...I chose the one from the county seat newspaper rather than the hometown newspaper, however. Why? Well, the hometown paper had a rather lengthy article about the accident itself, and reiterated some of the info in the obituary...except it had grandma married to grandpa's twin brother. (The obituary was correct on who was married to whom.) Therefore, I picked the truthier newspaper.

As I said, errors sometimes can be carved in stone, which makes the truth harder to find. Grandma's father, my g-grandfather Cyrus, has "1861" carved on his tombstone as the year of birth, which is the date listed on his death certificate. The census records after 1900 back that up, but earlier records show he was born in 1857. Finally, I found an old published genealogy on his maternal line in which his mother gave some pretty detailed information, including his birthdate in 1857...same month and day, just a few years earlier. I have not been able to figure this out, except Cyrus was a bit older than his wife...maybe it was vanity on his part, I'll never know.

Sometimes people find records with the same name as an ancestor, same state, and just assume it has to be the ancestor, no matter what. My cousins insisted that g-grandpa Calvin had been in the civil war. Well, he was a little bit long in the tooth to be a soldier, and he never left a written account, but here were some records from Wisconsin showing a man of that name listed! Excited, I ordered them, and sure was someone several counties away and more than a decade younger. I did some more digging and found that Calvin on census and the 1890 veteran's schedule living in that same far away county. (I did find my my Calvin's draft registration in the proper county, but he was never called up as far as I can tell.) Nonetheless, my cousins argued for several weeks that I was wrong! That the records matched! I was nuts! I finally had to create side-by-side comparisons of the records, highlighted in yellow and circled in red before they would believe me.

On the lighter side, some of the errors carved in stone can be quaint reminders that things and styles change. Here are the tombstones of my 5th g-grandparents Nathaniel and Suviah Hayden. Not wrong wrong, but spelling and capitalization are definitely different:

What are some of the amusing/frustrating things you've run across?

Originally posted to klompendanser on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 12:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by Genealogy and Family History Community.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    You go to war with the TROLLS you have, not the TROLLS you might want or wish to have at a later time.

    by klompendanser on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 12:12:49 PM PDT

  •  ? n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    klompendanser, larmos

    When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace- Hendrix

    by Maori on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 12:23:34 PM PDT

  •  I have a few ancestors (5+ / 0-)

    with incorrect birth dates.  There's even one that listed the place of birth - only it wasn't right.  Took me forever to find where that family really came from in Germany.  Because of the incorrect information, I spent a ridiculous amount of time looking in the wrong place.

    P.S.  Thanks for posting this diary.  Looks like our Open Thread went missing today, and I've been soooooo busy at work, I haven't had time to put one together.  Maybe later tonight or over the weekend.

    P.P.S.  I just looooooove those old headstones.  

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" - MLK

    by edwardssl on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 12:58:14 PM PDT

  •  Clarks (5+ / 0-)

    It is my father that does the heavy lifting genealogy work in the family. Years of frustration went into pinning down the correct Clark.

    The cemetery was full of Clarks, and Clarkes. It turns out there were three quite large, but unrelated, families that lived in the area - Clark, Clark and Clarke. I can't remember the first name of our Clark, but it was one of those like Sarah or Mary Anna; that was popular with all families of the day - and susceptible to ready spelling variations.

    Those years of frustration were delayed for some time due to our having embraced the wrong Clark as our own - which of course led to all kinds of weird discrepancies in correctly matching other stuff -  birthdates and death dates of parents, sibs, spouse, children, etc. (Most of those fell neatly into proper place, once we found the right Clark). I share the latter part of the story to emphasize it is unwise to blow discrepancies off as a clerical error without being sure it's a clerical error.

  •  Sometimes... (5+ / 0-)

    ...we do see those errors in stone corrected "on the spot," as it were. ;-)

    This one, belonging to my grandmother's grandfather (and family), was changed at some point. His year of birth originally said 1836, if I'm deciphering it correctly.


    Of course that hasn't stopped about a zillion Ancestry trees I've seen from getting his date of birth completely wrong (and yes, I've verified 1837 as being the correct year!)


    Great post, kd. Was just working on my own upcoming (1 July) Open Thread diary, which also discusses "errors and inconsistencies" in a slightly different context. :-)

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 01:47:01 PM PDT

  •  We're cousins. And that's the truthyish truth. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    klompendanser, figbash, edwardssl, slksfca

    More about that later.

    Those picky DAR application reviewers. They just won't accept your word that you know your own family tree. The fact is that some people are mistaken or misinformed about their own family tree. To paraphrase South Park, those bastards!

    Early on, I assumed way, way, too many things. Like dates and names on tombstones would provide the best and most accurate information. Carved in stone as you say.

    With a little thought, I realized that the guy who chiseled the information got it second hand from somebody who may not have known the details of the deceased's life. Maybe, in their grief, they got something wrong. Still, most monuments are correct. Now I know better.

    I've noticed that some records list baptism dates rather than birth dates. I've found family from Nova Scotia that frequently recorded baptism dates. Maybe it's a religious or regional tradition. It screws things up a lot.

    The strangest case of deliberately falsifying birth records is this:

    There was once a Physician (I don't recall his name offhand) who practiced in Greenfield, MA for a couple of decades. He prepared hundreds of false birth records. He believed that a child was unnamed until he was baptised  when "I baptize thee whatsisname" was said. He recorded the given name as Mary or Joseph for all unbaptized children. That was nearly all newborns. I don't think he told the parents because few birth record changes show up. I found one of my ancestors recorded this way. Gaaak.

    If you have ancestors born in Greenfield, MA in the early 1900's, they might be recorded under Mary or Joseph. The surname, birthdate, parents, etc. are good.

    I did a cursory search to see if your Hayden and Sutton line fell within my family tree. I immediately saw a handful of their ancestors' surnames that match.

    I can say with certainty, that we are related through marriage. Odds are good that we are directly related somehow, but I haven't done any research about that. I chose one name, the Thayer family who settled early in Mendon and Braintree, MA. Several of the Hayden/Sutton ancestors married a Thayer from Braintree.

    Now, the bad news. I have a common ancestor, Ferdinando Thayer, that I share with Sarah Palin. That makes me her [ugh] 9th cousin. And that means that you're related to her, at minimum, by marriage.

    Doesn't that just make your day?

    "All people are born alike - except Republicans and Democrats" - Groucho Marx

    by GrumpyOldGeek on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 04:36:45 PM PDT

    •  hello, cousin! (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      figbash, edwardssl, slksfca, larmos

      All unbaptised babies are named Mary or Joseph...what an absolute nightmare! And I thought my dad's Dutch ancestors were bad ... male children were named for grandfathers and female children were named for their grandmothers, and if a child died the next child born of that sex would be named for the dead child. My g-grandfather Albert had a brother Albert and three sisters named can bogged down in a family of second cousins once removed before you figure out the error.

      The Haydens were a prolific clan...and related to the Adams family of Braintree through the Alden/Mullins line. Nathaniel & Suviah's granddaughter Sophia married a man descended from a common ancestor to George Bush Sr and Jr. and Sen John Kerry (I believe we are all 14th cousins) So, if you think any of that balances out the connection to Palin...I don't know.  All I know is I have no desire to run for office!

      Thayer is an interesting name in and of itself to me...there are Thayers in the family cemetery in Wisconsin. I thought they were there because they were close neighbors...I'll have to some digging to see where they came from originally.

      You go to war with the TROLLS you have, not the TROLLS you might want or wish to have at a later time.

      by klompendanser on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 05:30:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As always, I'm late to the party. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    klompendanser, slksfca, larmos

    I just noticed this diary this morning as I began poking around in this place.  I guess I was looking too closely for the GFHC Open Thread notation that I missed yours.  Now I know what your comment in the Open Thread about errors and omissions referred to.....

    Just wanted to commend you for a very nice diary, k. In a Revolutionary War pension application a 5th Great's response to the question of his age answered:  "My father always told me I was born in 1748."  Dealing with ages is difficult sometimes even in the more recent past.  One of my own Grandmother's birth year is shown in various places as 1898 and 1902.  The day, though, is consistent as July 4th.

    Oh sure. Whenever I face a budget crisis the first thing I do is ask my employer to cut my salary.

    by figbash on Sat Jun 11, 2011 at 07:15:56 AM PDT

    •  was your grandmother sad (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slksfca, figbash, larmos

      when she learned all the parades were not in her honor? (I had an aunt born on June 14 who thought people flew flags just because it was her birthday)

      Thanks for the compliment -- all the stuff in this diary was getting in the way of another one I'm trying to write...sort of like an old Bill Cosby routine I remember that included, "I told you that story so I can tell you this one!"

      You go to war with the TROLLS you have, not the TROLLS you might want or wish to have at a later time.

      by klompendanser on Sat Jun 11, 2011 at 07:40:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ha. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        was your grandmother sad when she learned all the parades were not in her honor?

        As a matter of fact, she always used to joke that they were.  Very perspicacious, k.

        Oh sure. Whenever I face a budget crisis the first thing I do is ask my employer to cut my salary.

        by figbash on Sat Jun 11, 2011 at 11:29:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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