One of the biggest problems in confirming and verifying information such as names, dates, locations is when it turns out that an ancestor was ‘fibbing‘ to a clerk, census taker or for a newspaper article. Yes, our ancestors have fibbed, not been truthful especially when they know what information is given is going into a government document or public newspaper. They just did not want the real truth known.
So some examples of where an ancestor lied on an official document. In a census record, a person may not have wanted their correct age known, usually wanted a younger age. The census taker is not going to verify that person’s age, only accepts what is told them by the actual person or even worst by someone else in the household. That can be worst, the other person may not have even known for sure everyone’s age in the household, or didn’t want the actual ages known.
The same thing happens in census records for place of birth. The actual person doesn’t want it known they were born in a different state, territory or even born in a foreign country. Also one’s martial status is fibbed about. If the person was divorced, they didn’t want that known, so they stated they were a widow or widower or stated they were single.
On marriage certificates, you will find all types of fibs, especially related to their age (again usually younger). Or if they were marrying as an underage person, they would state they were older. Again most of the time no proof was needed. Marriage records might also have that the person never married before where in truth, they may have been previously married one, tow or three times.
Even military records can contain some fibs. If a mother signed for her son to enter the military stating he was a certain age, she may have knowingly stated the wrong date so the son could enter the service. The military recruiter would not have questioned a mother. There are some who stated they served in the military and never really did.
On death certificates, it would not be the ancestor but whoever was providing information for the death record who could be lying. If they want the decease to be older in age, they would give a different birth date. If the deceased had been married but the informant stated the person had never married, again the clerk is putting down what information is provided.
Also, all siblings for a relative may not be listed, especially any who were thought as a ‘black sheep’. Or the ancestor’s type of occupation could be something quite different than if actually was.
You can see how it can quickly get very confusing as to what is the truth. The key solution is NEVER relied on one source. Keep notes of what is located, say on a person’s birth date and the source of that data. Have at least 3 to 4 different sources from different time periods. Even that can’t provide the most accurate. I have seen a birth year for a certain relative continue to be two years younger than it really was and anytime even her young brother’s age was brought up, she made his birth year two years younger.
Always get the closest to the actual event, such as a birth to help verify information. If a child was born 1898, then check the 1900 census which has a month and year for a birth. Highly unlikely the mother will say her two-year child is a newborn or older by 1 to 2 years. However, the later in years, toward marriage date for a death date, the more likely it could be different than the truth.
Just be care … many of our most upstanding ancestors didn’t always tell the truth, but rather now have created more research work for you.
Photo: Ancestors fingers crossed behind their back.
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