It is called human error and there were many mistakes in the vintage vital records of our ancestors. Some errors due to carelessness along with inaccurate information known or provided to an official. These are just documents, but there were mistakes even done by stone cutters in making headstones for grave sites. So as a family history researcher, you have to check and recheck every bit of information you obtain.
Start checking by comparing various vital records such as birth-marriage-death records as well as military records, Wills and obituaries. If a certain item matches all the different records than you can be fairly sure it is correct. However, it can be just one item with a different answer that should cause to you investigate further.
An example I had was the birth location for my father. His military, most census records, his social security application, marriage license and mortgage applications had he was born in Massachusetts. Not until I checked his father’s nationalization papers did I find reference to his son (my father was born in Manchester, England) and arriving in America with the family at age 9. What a surprise!
I then checked the ship travel manifest records for my father, who came after his father’s arrival and traveled with his mother, to discover for sure he was listed as a native of England. Acquiring the certificate of birth from Manchester, England was the final proof I needed of where my father was actually born.
Rechecking US Census records had Massachusetts as the birth location except for one I finally located for when the family briefly lived in New Hampshire. Here my father and his whole family were listed as having been born in England.
Most of the records I had checked earlier were based on information provided by my father. So for some unknown reason, he put on forms that he was born in Massachusetts and had never filled out any nationalization papers.
So by researching deeper about my grandfather I learned new and correct information on my father. Checking and rechecking paid off.
Photo: Harry Kershaw in the center with his sister, Ethel and brother Edwin before they left England in 1914.
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