Monday, January 13, 2014

Which date do you use?

Someone asked a great question on the Legacy Users Group e-mail list and I thought I would discuss it a bit.  The question was, which date do you use when you are extracting information such as occupations and residences, the date of the event or the date the document was filed?

There are so many example of this.  Obituaries will give the place of residence of the listed survivors.  Do you use the date of death or the date the paper published the obituary?  If you have a birth certificate and the father is listed as a carpenter, do you record the occupation under the date of the child’s birth or the date the birth certificate was filed?  This is a personal preference thing so I can only tell you what I do and why. 

I always use the date of the event.  It just gets too complicated and confusing if you are using registration/file/publish dates. Usually the difference is only a day or two but here is a more dramatic example.  The informant on a death certificate most likely provided the information within this day or two margin but the actual document may not have been recorded for days, weeks, or even months later.  I have deaths that occurred in Oct/Nov that weren’t filed until Jan. Many times they were waiting for the doctor to sign off on it. In this case, going with the death date would be a much better bet.

Having said that, if you did want to use the registration dates of vital documents (or publication dates of obits etc.) just make sure that you do it consistently and explain your rationale so that others reading your reports understand your recording methods.

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I completely agree with you Michele. I too use the date of the event. I've seen births registered even years later and deaths too.

  2. Interesting post about an important point. When extracting I give the date of publication/probate/recording as well as the date of the event (death, will or deed written). Sometimes a deed was recorded decades after the agreement date -- the explanation in one case was that heirs of a decedent were about to sell the land (and there is usually a story). Sometimes a person was 'found dead' and date of death not determined. I recently came across a death certificate where the physician certified a date, but he also said he'd last visited the decedent 2 days before the stated death date. So who furnished the date of death was not really clear from the record (there was no inquest or autopsy).

    It is difficult to be consistent when the records are not consistent!