31 March 2012

One Mother: Four Birth Certificates; Finding Mistakes in Vital Records

Most genealogists rely on basic information on an individual to build a simple profile of that person's life. Once you have those pieces, the rest of their history is much easier to accumulate. The birth, marriage and death dates and locations are extremely important to building a strong case in your research. Those vital's, the BMD, are typically the first items you look for upon learning of a new ancestor.

We have to remember, however, that those forms were completed by humans. Even those found in recent history commonly have errors and misspellings. Just because its on a BMD record, does not mean its correct. This post will give you an example of that situation.

One Mother: Four Birth Certificates

(Because this example is about real people, who are still alive, actual names have been replaced with those out of my imagination.)

Sally Lorraine Kniver married William J. Wilson in 1960 in Birmingham, Alabama. William was a military man, so they lived in various places along the eastern seaboard during their early years as a family. They had four children in all, born in three different states. The two eldest children, the son and the first daughter, have birth certificates from Maryland and Alabama respectively. Both of those have correct information, with no errors. The other two daughters, however, are different.

The third child was also born in Maryland. The certificate lists birthplace of the babies father and mother, and while William Wilson was born in Washington, it was Washington State, not Washington D.C. as listed on the certificate. Additionally, the information on the mother's residence is incorrect:

Usual Residence of Mother:
State: DC
County: Enumclaw
City or Town: Wash DC

An address is also listed, which happens to be located in Enumclaw, King County, Washington. As a District, Washington DC does not actually reside in a "county", so obviously the information listed on the certificate is confused at best. If you were to just use the information on the certificate of this child alone, as a researcher, you may be quite lost as to where this woman actually lived. (Until you Googled "Enumclaw" that is - trust me, there is only one of those.)

Finally, the fourth child, and last girl of the family. Born in Enumclaw, Washington after William left his military service. The majority of information on her vital record is correct, except for the spelling of her mother's maiden name. The correct spelling is KNIVER, but the record has it as KNIVED. A small error, but another likely to cause confusion, especially with the novice researcher.

If you had all four of these birth records, you would be able to make highly educated assumptions about the family, do some additional research, and find the correct information fairly easily. However, if you have only one or two, and at least one of those has errors, it could certainly lead you down the wrong path. It is important to remember to search along the branches of your tree, just as much as the trunk. In other words, research the siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles along with your direct ancestral line to find as much information as possible; in order to build an accurate and full family history.

Records can be fudged, errors are made, even in today's world. In the above examples, the children were all born in the 1970's, and although corrections have been made to the records, there are many more out there that sit in error.

Example of a Vital Record: Certificate of Marriage