Vital records may contain correct and incorrect information
may 11, 2014
It is important to remember that vital records may contain both correct and incorrect information. When an informant was present for the event, then the information may be considered correct, but I suggest that you double-check it anyway. Other information, such as the parents’ full names and birth dates may be incorrect unless the parents were there to give the information. I must follow this by saying that neither parent could remember their birth, but we usually trust that the information given is correct.
Only information given by someone who was present and experienced the event is considered primary information. Secondary information is that which one finds in obituaries. The writer was probably not present at the time of death but collected the dates and biography of the deceased individual from a close family member or friend.
I have an instance that always brings a smile. It involves my dad’s delayed birth certificate; one that is prepared much later that meets the standards required in the early days of social security and before vital records were recorded by law. The preparation involves Daddy’s mother-in-law. She gave the information when and where he was born and she said she knew the family and was present when he was born.
Wrong. For instance, Daddy was born in Texas. My grandmother was age four and living in Arkansas when Daddy was born. Furthermore, Grandmother’s family did not move to Texas until Daddy was two years old. Nevertheless, social security took my grandmother’s signed document and issued Daddy a birth certificate with my grandmother’s information. My dad’s parents were alive during this but they did not help with the birth certificate. I do not know why. Daddy’s parents did say the information supplied by my maternal grandmother was correct.
On my child’s birth certificate, I gave my name and vital information and then proceeded to give my husband’s information. I was not present when my husband was born, so his information is secondary. The information I supplied about me is considered correct.
Death records also contain both primary and secondary information. When my mother-in-law died, her daughter gave the information of record. Although she had been to her grandparents many times over the years and even spent several days there, she supplied the wrong names. That is due to the grieving process and happens often. Had it been the correct names, it still would be secondary information.
Watch vital records and other records for both primary and secondary sources. Just in case there is a mistake in what seems to be a primary record, it is wise to quickly attempt to verify it. For more on this subject, read the topic in Ancestry.com, www.ancestry.org/primary-secondary-genealogy-sources/.
NOTE ON SOURCING: Finally, someone spoke out and he agrees with me on sourcing. Michael John Neill said in a post on April 7, “Imperfect citations are not the end of the world. Your citation should get you back to the specific item from where you obtained the information. It is not the end of the world if you don't have the form "correct" or if you include too much in your citation. As long as you can easily get back to that page in the census from what you have written down, not having the enumeration district is not the end of the world.” Amen to that. A citation is a road map back to where you found the information so others can get to that location, easily. This is true for both a footnote and an endnote. However, I will say that footnotes are more likely to be copied by someone using your work rather than an endnote. The endnote may not be copied if time and money are a consideration. Furthermore, I do not fault family historians who enclose the source information in parenthesis (scientific notation) within the body of the writing. A source is a source regardless whether it is within parenthesis, at the bottom of the page or following the article.
MESQUITE GENEALOGY SPRING WORKSHOP: The Mesquite Genealogical Society holds its annual spring workshop on Saturday, June 14, at the main Mesquite library. The speaker is Glenn Kinkade. His four topics are Perils, Paradoxes and Pitfalls in Probate; Read a Good Book Lately; Indirect Evidence; Naturalization Records. Pre-registration for members is $40, non-members is $45 and walk-ins are $50. Advance registration closes June 1. Make checks payable to MHGS, P. O. Box 850165, Mesquite, TX 75185-0165.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: email@example.com.