Records lie to us. The very records we depend upon to reconstruct our families, lie all the time. Inaccurate information is everywhere.
A Few Examples
In this 1900 census, my third great-grandmother Hannah Harbor reported that she was widowed:
But her former husband Joseph was alive and well. Sadly, he left her for another woman. He was also committing lots of crimes, so I probably wouldn’t want to claim him either.
Aunt Hattie reported on her sister’s death certificate that their mother’s name was Margaret (Simpson), wife of Levi:
But her correct name was Martha Simpson, not Margaret as was recorded. Margaret was Martha’s stepmother.
Ferdinand Holt migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana in the early 20th century. He filled out a World War II Draft card that proclaimed his birth date of 6 Dec 1895:
But he wasn’t born in 1895. He was probably born in 1887 which was recorded on his earlier World War I Draft Card:
Oddly, the actual day (Dec 6) stayed the same, even though the year changed by 8!
Records lie, manipulate and deceive us. Some of the examples above kept me going in the wrong direction for years. People forgot, lied, misled and simply left out important information. No source is infallible.
We have to consider the entire body of evidence we have gathered, and not just one document. In fact, you can’t prove anything with one document.
Every document has the potential to contain inaccurate information. Viewing records in isolation and accepting what they purport as true can’t be our practice.
Learning my ten key genealogy principles can help.
So, what documents have been lying to you?
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.