I remember, as a novice family history research, the thrill of finding a record that told me more about my family and immediately adding the information to my family history. Back then, my family tree was on paper and only available to those with whom I personally chose to share it. As I have gained experience, I have learned to gather as many records as possible before adding information to my now online family tree which is view-able to a much larger audience.
Single records contain an incomplete description of a person much like a single picture of a person does. Any record can contain errors that would likely be identified by comparing that record to others that pertain to the same individual. I would like to share three examples of this that I have found.
This is a picture of my great-uncle Moroni Traxler and his wife, Nellie on their 50th wedding anniversary. Moroni is the twin brother of one of my great-grandmothers and clearly a male.
However, I have found Moroni Traxler, in an online family tree, identified as a female because of one inaccurate record. That record is an entry in the 1871 Canadian Census which identifies him as a she! Considering that Moroni is an unusual name to anyone not familiar with the Book of Mormon, I assumed the census taker assumed that with a child with name like that must be a girl. More recently I have learned that it was the custom in the mid-1800’s to dress little boys in dresses until they were five or six years old. Moroni was four years old in 1871, hence the confusion.
I found another example while helping a friend research her family history. My friend’s great-grandmother was Annie Hankins born in Alabama in 1880. Through a number of records, I identified her parents, her husband, Warren Madden and her children. I didn’t have death information for her, so I was excited when a death certificate for Annie Madden showed up in a record search on FamilySearch.org.
I was quickly disappointed however when the parents listed in the transcription of the record for this Annie Madden didn’t match the information I already had and so I assumed this was a different Annie Madden. Of course this record continued to come up when I did a record search for Annie Madden and so eventually, I decided to look at the record image itself. That’s when I realized that the information had been given by one of Annie’s daughters and the names of the couple, Wes and Sarah McMilon Short, listed as Annie’s parents looked familiar.
I looked through the records I had collected about Annie and her extended family and realized that Wes and Sarah Short had been Annie’s neighbors while she was growing up and while she was raising her children. While the Short’s weren’t her biological parents, Annie must have had a very close relationship with them which led Annie’s daughter to list them as her mother’s parents.
The third example is a recent find. For anyone researching family history in Ireland, the recent additions of Catholic parish records and civil registration records to online free websites has been an exciting gift. I was recently searching these sites to find better documentation for information that I have added to Family Search Family Tree and made an interesting discovery. I have a cousin who according to available records was baptized before she was born!
The following image comes from the Catholic parish record of Drumlish parish which is in County Longford, Ireland. The page itself doesn’t identify the parish but the URL for the image http://registers.nli.ie/registers/vtls000632410#page/121/mode/1up does identify it as being part of the Drumlish parish record.
Toward the bottom of this image is the record of my cousin, Rose Ann O’Neill’s baptism. Typical of Catholic parish records of Ireland in the 19th century, given names in the entries are given their Latin form. Accordingly, Rose Ann is recorded as Rosam Annam with her father’s name, John recorded as Joanis and her mother, Mary recorded as Maria. Fortunately, last names were not altered; the parents’ names were John O’Neill and Mary Clarke. The date of Rose Ann O’Neill’s baptism is January 29, 1877.
The transcription of Rose Ann’s civil birth record appeared as a record hint on Family Search. I was able to find this image of the record on another website. ( https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/)
In the civil registration record is a birth of a daughter, Rose, born to John O’Neill and Mary O’Neill formerly Clarke on March 5, 1877 which is several weeks later than the baptism record! When viewing these two records the logical assumption is that these are two different children despite the same names being in both records. However, I believe the child in both records is the same child for the following three reasons.
First, while the boundaries of the Catholic parish of Drumlish and the registration district of Drumlish are not identical, they do intersect and the birth location, Creelaughta, given in the civil birth record lies within the intersection. Creelaughta is also the homeland of my O’Neill clan and I have found O’Neill family baptisms, including my grandfather’s in the Drumlish parish records. Second, the middle name of Ann in the baptismal records provides further evidence even though it doesn’t appear in the civil record of birth.
The civil birth records rarely included a middle name even if there was one. Following a common naming custom of this period in Ireland, a daughter would be first named for her paternal grandmother and then her maternal grandmother. John O’Neill’s mother’s name was Rose and Mary Clark’s mother’s name was Ann. And third, the dates being so close together rule out the possibility that the baptism record is for a child who died as an infant and the civil birth record is for a child born later and given the same name. It was surprisingly common if an infant died who had been given a grandparent’s name, for another child born later to be given the same name.
So why would John misrepresent his daughter’s birth date? Because there was a fine for not reporting births promptly and John must have missed the deadline! Since the records show the next baby who was born two years later was born and then baptized, John being tardy in reporting Rose’s birth was probably just a first time new parent error.
It is important for family history researchers to remember that records are created by people and sometimes people enter false information into records either accidentally or on purpose. Because of this, it is important to gather as many records as possible so as to have the clearest record of your family that records can provide.
Christine Bell has been seeking her ancestor for almost forty years and continues to find joy in each one she finds. She volunteers in a Family Search Family History Center where she helps others find their ancestors. As a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints, she is grateful to be a member of the Church. She is a wife, mother of six grown children, grandmother of five going on six, and currently living in the western United States. Christine enjoys spending time with family and creating quilts for family, friends and Humanitarian Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.