Let's say you are researching Ebenezer Doe in southern Mississippi. You have Ebenezer Doe in the 1850 census in Perry County. He was born about 1825 and has a wife named Jane Doe and one child named John born about 1845. You go to the 1860 census and you find two possibles. There is an Ebenezer Doe in Perry County born about 1822 with wife Jane and now there are two children Charles and Samuel (no John). There is an Eben Doe born about 1827 with wife Mary in Copiah County. They have a son John born about 1847 and another son named S. Doe. You decide that the Ebenezer in Perry County is your man and that little John must have died. You are making a big mistake if you make assumptions like this. This is a situation that requires a lot more research. Please don't take the easy way out.
Take a look at the family in Copiah County. Mary could be Mary Jane or Mary could be a 2nd wife. Eben is of course a nickname for Ebenezer so no problem there. The birth dates are off by two years each. Censuses were not always taken when they said they were. It is suspicious that both ages are off by two years. You obviously have TWO Eben Doe families to follow or do you? Did you think that maybe Eben and his family moved during the census year and they were enumerated TWICE? This isn't all that uncommon. Just because the names and ages don't match doesn't mean this isn't a possibility. This scenario is an example of Analyzing the Data. You can't assume anything.
“I have not all my facts yet, but I do not think there are any insuperable difficulties. Still, it is an error to argue in front of your data. You find yourself insensibly twisting them round to fit your theories.” [Holmes to Watson, "Wisteria Lodge"]
Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis