Mistakes, Errors and Doubles Exist – Conflicts Abound
TRANSCRIPTION DATE CONFLICT
Genealogically, the most common conflicting date issue is transcribing March 4th to March 4, 1814 to 3/4/14 back to March 4th, 1814, then 4 March 1814, then 4/3/14 and back and forth again until someone switches the whole date around and it becomes mistakenly 3 April 1814. All the while thinking:
- That date style day/month/year (dd/mm/yy) looks pretentious.
- That date style day/month/year is only for serious or professional genealogists.
- That date style implies publication later and I am just doing this for my family.
- That date style looks European style, I’m American.
I thought all those things and kept using mm/dd/yy i.e. month/day/year right up to and including the day someone sent me a corrupted file with the dates backwards. Frustratingly some were early days in early months and I couldn’t tell which date they should have been. Anybody can tell the 12th day of the 17th month isn’t real and should be 17 December not the other way around. Now I use day – month – year all the time. As the Y2K computer issue evolved, I added the year as a four digit number yyyy. My dates are either written out 4 March 1814 or 4 March 1914 or 4 March 2014 but very seldom as 3/4/14. It is a habit thirty years in the breaking. Who says people can’t change!
Errors and Omissions or When is the Date Not the Date?
Birth Date vs. Evidence of Birth
Sometimes dates are confused due to transcription errors or date style errors and sometimes they are confused because the date of birth is mistakenly noted when it was really the baptismal date or another date indicative of birth.
Birth certificates are great, including a full name, parents, residence, date and sometimes other information, but they are not available for all people, at all times and in all places. Bibles including a Family Record section with births entered concurrent with the events are also good. Early newspaper clippings regarding local births are wonderful when birth certificates are not deemed public records or are not available to anyone except the subject. Baptismal records are also good contemporaneous records which generally included the baby’s full name, parents, sponsors and the church or minister. The problem with the last two sources is that sometimes the baptismal date is entered into a data base program as the birth date or the newspaper volume publication date is entered in as the birth date. While it is true that the newspaper date, especially if it was an afternoon paper, might be the birth date, it is more likely that it was news from the day before or even during the previous week. The baptismal date is generally not the birth date unless the baby was ill and not expected to live, but in fact usually but not always baptisms took place in the first year, sometimes two and generally in the first three years of a child’s life. However, there are clumps of children of varying ages from the same family baptized on the same date and adult baptisms in nearly every record book I have read. The federal population census occasionally includes birth months and years, marriage records ocassionaly include birth dates, death certificates do also, but these records are not necessarily created near the birth event and so rely on the long term memory of the informant. The mistake I come across most frequently is a baptismal date entered as a birth date.
Wedding Date vs. Evidence of Marriage
Sometimes the date of marriage is confused due to transcription errors and sometimes it’s mistaken for another date indicative of marriage, an application, bond, coupon, register, license, return, certification, solemnization, newspaper article or church register. In that case two people might have two different dates for a marriage taken correctly from two separate sources, but the dates might be the date of the source not the date of the marriage. Of course the regular transcription errors issue arise and the day/month/year vs. month/day/year issue creates problems too. Washington Co., Virginia has an old indexed marriage register that is typed and alphabetized but reflects dates early in the 1800s and the late 1780s and 1790s, before the typewriter was invented, much less used in county record keeping. In Duplin Co., N. C. the typewriter was first used in the recorder’s office to record deeds in 1933. In courthouses that suffered war, flood, fire, or tornado damage, there are partial sets of records or an index book that was salvaged while individual records were destroyed, leaving no direct source just a cross reference to one that is gone. There are mistakes. It would be wonderful to see the old records, not the index. The date mixup I find most frequently is the application date instead of the marriage date.
Death Dates vs. Evidence of Death
Death certificates are an excellent source for death dates, created at the time of death by someone who knew the facts. In some states these certificates were not required prior to the 20th century or are not public records now and so can not be viewed by anyone except the spouse, children or parents of the deceased. In that case other records must be used including social security death benefits index, funeral records, burial records, pension files, probate records including wills, inventories, administration papers, sexton ledgers, coroners’ records, newspaper articles, deed transfers, Bible records, obituaries, all of which may give the date of the record not necessarily the date of death. The one I find most frequently is the obituary date or sometimes the funeral or burial date for deaths in the last century. For those prior to that, it is usually a probate date, the date the will was proven or sometimes the date the will was signed instead of a death date.
Errors and Omissions are so common that the Insurance Industry has coverage entitled E&O or Errors and Omissions insurance. My dates may be different from yours because of a typo by me, by you, by the clerk whose source you or I read, by the clerk who copied the same, by an indexer in the office, by a typesetter, by a volunteer reading the records from digitized copies, the list is nearly endless. How far away from the original source is your source, is a legitimate question. Copying someone’s research / work off an Ancestry tree is pretty far away from the original source. People make mistakes.
Compare and contrast your dates to someone else’s and determine if the differences are due to errors or different sources. Dates and places are how to differentiate people of the same name so precision counts, especially in the big three, birth, marriage and death dates.