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Did They Always Tell The Truth?

Every person makes some sort of record about their life. It’s really hard to say what genealogy will be like a generation or two after we are gone. Maybe our descendants will try to find that elusive Facebook account we had. Or perhaps they’ll read about our own exploits on blogs and archived web sites that have become some sort of digital library of our current life. They might even have several thousands of pictures of all of us, since the digital camera makes it easy to snap-and-go. But are we telling the truth about ourselves in the records we make? Our ancestors certainly didn’t!

As a genealogist, records are the solid evidence we have to claim an ancestry. A heritage, our heritage. It’s important to us and to the clients handled by the professionals. It is so important to find the records to cite and solidify our claims and when you do finally get it, the information doesn’t look quite right. Then you compare the information from the headstone, seven census records, an obituary, and now a death record. Apparently this person didn’t know how old they were at most any given point of their life and no one really knew how old they were when they died either.

Their headstone says “aged 90 years” but their death record says “83 yrs” and their obituary says “88 years” and the census records from 1850-1880 give a +/- range of 1-7 years difference between the four of them (there are no 1890 records in this area). What do you use for the source? What is your actual documentation for saying ‘this is approximately how old they are’. What is your proof? Being off by several years could constitute the belief that this may be a different person, provided there were no other factors to weigh against.

Another person has their birth record as being in July but the dates are either 1, 5, 7, or 9 and the years are either 1871, 1872, or 1873. The information was different every time it was given, whether it was the same person or not. Affidavits from the grandmother, the birth record from the parents, the family Bible, the pension record, the enlistment forms, just to name a few were all different.  The birth record has the earliest date on it, but the grandmother that signed an affidavit who said she was present at the birth gave a slightly different date by a few days off. The family Bible gives a different date too. All three of these can’t possibly be right, so which one is? The only common factor which all agrees on is that the birthday is in fact in July occurring sometime within the first week, more or less.

Then you have another person whose death certificate is not found, their headstone is illegible, and their death notice in the paper says “aged between 80 and 90 years”.

Are you feeling frustrated yet? You either have too much information to mix-n-match or you have barely anything to go on. Which side would you rather be on: having too much or too little left to the imagination?

Then there are the ones you find whose records are always exact. From their birth to their death, they are exact. Not a date out of place and all their records are easily accessible. Their life yielded proper, accurate documents,  and in some cases were even well documented!  Oh, how we wish most of our persons of interest were like this!

Does it really come as any surprise that today we make records that aren’t always accurate, if we slightly fudge our weight or birth year to be older or younger or lighter?

Our ancestors didn’t always tell the truth and we follow by example, knowingly or not.

To be continued … Do You Always Tell the Truth?

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