Conflicting Genealogy Data
by Lisa South - Certified Genealogist
Resolving Conflicting Date of Birth date data and others...
"I have three different birth dates for my grandfather. He told me
when he was born; I have a delayed birth certificate
; and a baptismal
record for him. Each has a different birth year-now what?"
Conflicting sources are a continual problem when doing genealogy
research. How do you know which one is accurate? Sometimes an error
is so blatant that you can immediately determine which is the more accurate
document. But often it is not that cut and dried. When we do find conflicting
information, we should evaluate the sources by using a scientific approach.
Each document should be evaluated on the following criteria:
1. Is the document an original or a copy? An original is the first
copy of any document. A photocopy of the original is usually considered
an original. Each time a document is hand copied the chance of error
is greater. Be especially aware of compiled indexes. Historically these
where hand-created, and often error prone.
2. Is the information primary evidence or secondary evidence?
Primary evidence is the testimony (oral or written) given by an eyewitness
or recorded by mechanical device present at the event. Secondary evidence
is information that is either not the result of personal observation
or is collected significantly after the fact. A vital record, such as
a birth certificate, would usually be considered a primary source.
The parent giving you information about their children would usually
be a primary source. There are always exceptions that you need to consider.
Is the parent elderly and is his/her memory questionable? In this case
they might need to be considered a secondary source. Other examples
of secondary sources are tombstones and census records.
3. Does the document contain direct or circumstantial evidence of the
information you are seeking?
Direct evidence is information that directly answers a question. Circumstantial
evidence gives a logical inference from which an answer might be derived.
For example, if you are looking for the birth date of your ancestor,
Ohso Elusive - and you find a church baptismal record that says he was
born on January 12, 1876, the document directly answers your question.
Ohso was born on Jan. 12, 1876. If, on the other hand, you find a death
certificate that says Ohso Elusive died March 15, 1948 at the age
of 72, you have a document that gives you direct evidence of his death
date but circumstantial evidence of his birth date.
Naturally, the ideal document would be an original record from a primary
source with direct evidence, but genealogists usually are not that lucky.
After evaluating each of the conflicting documents using the scientific
approach, the document that comes closest to the ideal is probably your
most accurate. Of course we could still have erroneous information,
so if and when you locate additional records, you should always compare
it to your current information and evaluate the information once more.
Using a scientific approach to our research gives us the greatest chance
of accuracy, which should be the goal of every one working on genealogy.
OneGreatFamily.com makes it easy to find differences between
your information and that entered by others. The system marks differences
in information as conflicts. You can turn on or off the identification
of conflicts in the Genealogy Browser by toggling the appropriate
button in the tool bar: There are two primary types of conflicts: informational
and relational. Informational conflicts occur when a fact is in dispute,
perhaps a birth date or a marriage location. Relational conflicts occur
when a family relationship is in question. In resolving both types of
conflicts, you will be presented with your information and the conflicting
information. You will then be given a choice to 1) accept the alternate
information presented, 2) clear the conflict which means you are satisfied
with your information and no longer want to consider any alternative
information, or 3) cancel for now which will allow you to postpone making
a choice until you can find more information.