October 29, 2007

Primary Records are NOT always Accurate

We all want our genealogy to be accurate.

We search and search for that primary record, the one that we've been told is "THE" record to find -- a death certificate, a church baptismal record, marriage record....

But - beware! Not all primary records are accurate. As good genealogists we must consider that there can be errors. The informant (person giving the information) may not know the answers and may thus provide incorrect details. The clerk recording the information may not hear the response correctly and may enter it incorrectly. The person giving the information may lie, especially about their age.

In my own family tree, my great-grandmother's official government death registration is incorrect. Her parents' names are wrong. Since I already knew who her parents were (Isaac Vollick & Lydia Jamieson) from other genealogy sources, I was completely bewildered at first by seeing her parents given as Stephen Vollick and Mary.

Then it dawned on me - Stephen was my great grandmother's husband's first name (Stephen Peer). Mary was my great grandmother's own name. (Mary Vollick)

So I looked at the informant's name. AHA! The informant was Mary's 17 year old son. Her husband having died long before Mary, and her older children married and gone, the task of answering the official questions fell to her 17 year old son who had cared for her in her final days.

It is easy to see how the young boy, when asked by a government clerk "Father's name?" (meaning father of the deceased), would have replied "Stephen", for in fact Stephen WAS his own father's name.

The question "Mother's name?" referring to the mother of the deceased, would be answered by the boy "Mary" which was HIS mother's name.

And thus the official death registration for parents of Mary (Peer) Vollick daughter of Isaac and Lydia Vollick, is forever rendered as Stephen and Mary Vollick.

So be cautious when you encounter a primary source that simply doesn't match other reliable sources. Investigate! Think! Don't just accept the new "facts" without further legwork to prove or disprove them.

No comments: