Build Your Family Tree – Errors in Dates

It sometimes takes clever work to build your family tree.

Building a family tree takes patience.

This is another post in the series designed to help you build your family tree.  This is the fourth in the series that started on 1 Jan 2014 with Tracing Danish Ancestors.  I hope these prove useful to you in your family history search.

When you set out to build your family tree you’re going to run into incorrect dates and dates that make no sense.  Understand that any dates you find should be looked upon skeptically.  Know that you should not trust them until you verify they are correct.  Only then should you use them to verify other facts.

I’ll give you some actual examples of incorrect dates that I’ve run into while trying to build my family tree.  I had one ancestor who actually lied about her birthday.  She was 20 years younger than her husband, but didn’t want him to know that.  She thought he might back out of marrying her due to her being too young, as at the time such a large age difference was not socially acceptable.  When you look over the ensuing censuses and other documents, you find that as they got older, they no longer cared about the age difference, and the correct information came out.

When you are trying to build your family tree you are going to have to deal with immigration dates and this is another place where you’ll find lots of errors.  In searching one of my ancestors, I found that he arrived in the US anywhere from 1870 to 1880 – depending on what document I looked at.  I am not sure how this happens exactly but it could be that some differences came from simple math errors.  Other discrepancies could be from someone trying to appear to have been in the US for a certain period of time in order to qualify for something.  There’s also the problem of the transcriber or person recording the record simply hearing it incorrectly or writing it down incorrectly.

This leads me to this point – when you’re doing a search to build your family tree you MUST use a range of dates for your search.  Use a base date – like the year of birth – to start out.  Begin the search with a small range like +/- one year.  If you get nothing then increase it to +/- two years, then five years, etc. – until you get the results you’re looking for.

Occasionally you’ll look at a document and find that you have to disregard what all the ages or dates are saying.  You can only do that if you’re absolutely sure you have the right family. You can only know that by using all the other surrounding facts that you have gathered.  If you have the correct names, birth places, birth dates, children names, occupations, etc., you’ll have the data you need to be certain you have the right family.   Having gotten that all sorted out, then check out if they were living in the same place earlier or later and use that data to confirm your conclusion.

Through history people did indeed make dramatic changes in their lives.  They changed their names, where they lived, etc but they rarely changed everything.  Unless your ancestors really went underground in order to hide from the law or from an enemy, they typically would have kept some things the same.  It sometimes happens that the things they kept the same are the only way you can trace them and build your family tree.  That’s why it’s so vital to gather verified facts like first names, children names, birth dates, birth places, etc.  Once you have those, you can use that data to know that you have the right family, even if some of the dates seem odd.

I sure hope you can put this to use and go forward and complete your family history search.  It’s very satisfying to build your family tree and know you’ve done it all correctly.

Let me know if you have any questions or if I can be of any help to you.   I enjoy helping others and would certainly like to help you if I can.

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