Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 4 - Resolution of any conflicting evidence

This is the step that beginners tend to skip.  When you find something in your exhaustive search that doesn’t jive with your working hypothesis, you can’t just discount it as being wrong.

Here is a very simple example. Let’s say you find this for Jane (Doe) Smith:
1850 – age 2
1860 – age 12
1870 – age 21
1880 – age 32
1900 – born June 1848
1910 – age 52
1920 – age 72
1924 – death certificate and tombstone put date of birth at 04 June 1848, her obituary stated she was 76 years old

It would be easy to just discount the 1910 census as an error and pretend like it doesn’t exist.  When you see something like this you need to acknowledge it and research it further.  You might not be able to explain the aberrant age but you won’t know unless you try.

I would look at the census record again AND I would also pull this same census sheet from other repositories.  Each company starts with the same microfilm but they use different digital imaging and enhancement techniques.  If there is something that I am not sure about I will check FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest and InternetArchive.  Is it possible that the 5 in 52 is really a 6?

I would also check to see if the other ages within the family are also off.  This might indicate that a child was the informant or maybe even a neighbor who guessed a bit on the ages.  I would check the other families on the page and on a couple of other pages.  Is there a general sloppiness?  Are there other ages that are off?  Any spelling errors?  Perhaps the enumerator was being careless.

How about this.  What if Jane remarried in 1909 and lied about her age so that her new husband wouldn’t know how old she really was.  He was dead by 1920 so there was no reason for her to lie again.  Far fetched?  Not as far as you might think.  I probably wouldn’t be able to prove this one but I could throw the possibility out there if I saw that she did marry in 1909 and new husband was dead in 1920.

My conclusion would be that she was born 04 June 1848 but now I can say it with the confidence of having investigated the conflicting data.  You will have much more complicated cases than this one but you get the idea.

Contradictions and Discrepancies by FamilySearch
Reconciling Conflicting Information by Michael Hait, CG
An Appellate Judge Discusses Genealogical Evidence by Adrian J. Gravelle

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. As you so deftly pointed out, researching that conflict can lead to some interesting bits of family history. Thank you for writing this series!

  2. Thanks so much for following the posts! Tomorrow's post is my favorite because writing up the proof argument is the hardest step for me :)

  3. Thank you for helping confirm a possibility I've suspected - I don't think your suggestion about age-adjusting is far-fetched! My great-great grandmother remarried, and her second husband (a cousin of her first husband) was actually 8 years younger than she was; she adjusted her age for a few censuses; then after his death she went back to reporting her real age. :)

  4. If I married someone 8 years younger than me I would probably fudge a bit too :) :) :)