Question: I’d like any advice you can give on criteria to consider which source citation to accept when several offer conflicting facts. It’s a general question, but my specific example is my gr-gr grandfather John Thomas. Here is what I have to select from as his birth year. None of these sources state a specific date, all are calculated from another event (e.g., death or census date).
- Grave: 1820
- County death record: 1828
- 1870 and 1875 census: 1815
- 1880 census: 1824
- 1885 census: 1821
- 1895 census: 1823
After using 1815 for years, I have recently changed and set the gravestone date as the preferred date and labeling the rest as alternate dates, but I’m starting to question that.
Any advice is appreciated.
Answer: To start with you may never know. His birth date seems to be all over the place in these documents. In some he and his wife Honora are the same age, sometimes John is older and sometimes John is older.
With a census, you never know who reported the information. It could be a neighbor, or a child who just was guessing or it may be the person in question. But maybe it was to their advantage to be older or younger at the time due to a pension or some other reason.
I saw the entry in the Drouin records but, there is no age listed. So no help that I could figure out there.
The tombstone implies 1820. The last Minnesota census, implies that he was born in 1823 and that he was 72 in 1895. On his tombstone it says he was 76 in 1896. I suspect two different people gave that information.
Other places to look:
- Immigration records. He appears he immigrated from Ireland to Canada to the US. Maybe you can find something there.
- Actual marriage record. Maybe his age is listed there.
- Look carefully at his children’s ages. Do they vary from census to census? Is there one that looks like somebody got the ages right? Maybe that is his correct age.
Because of the wide variation, I’m not sure you are ever going to feel 100% confident unless you can find a birth record, which may be a challenge in Ireland.
I don’t think it is a bad thing to go with the tombstone as your default. You would assume that whoever had that inscribed wanted it to be correct.