Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dear Randy - How Do You Handle False or Wrong Information?

A Genea-Musings reader recently asked in an email:

"I'm recently getting 'serious' about my genealogical research and have just started reading your blog.  I find it very entertaining and helpful.  Because of you, I have ordered 'Evidence Explained!' and will endeavor to be as accurate as possible when citing my sources!

"I was wondering, though, how you handle information you know to be false.  For example, my great grandmother's name was incorrectly recorded on the 1910 U.S. Census as "Domeca," when her name was, in reality, "Domenica."  In another census, her family's last name was very badly misspelled, but I know it's the correct family because it's the same address as 10 years prior and all the first names and ages are correct for the family members (other sources also confirm they never moved).  Do you enter this information into your database as alternate facts in the interest of being thorough, or do you disregard it?"

My response:

For your specific problem, I would enter the names in my database with what I think is correct - in your case, Domenica.  That is your Conclusion based on the evidence at hand.  Hopefully, you have several sources that spell her name that way.  Same with the last name that was badly mangled in the census.  You could discuss in the Note for the Name, in your Person Note, or in your Research Notes, that different records provided different spellings, and you concluded that the correct name was whatever you decided.  If you obtain more evidence, your conclusion may change, or be corroborated.

 I do add Alternate Names for different names used in records, but pick the name (draw a Conclusion) that I think is correct for the "Name" field.  Then I write a Name Note for the Name fact describing the variations and why I chose the Name I did for the person in my database.

I also add Alternate Events for different dates and places for a given Event, but I don't do every Alternate date - from census records, for instance, because they are usually inexact.  If there is a range of birth dates, I will write a Birth Event Note that lists the evidence, the analysis of the evidence at hand, and my reasons for the Conclusion.  I put my Conclusions in the Birth Event fields.

In the Person notes, or the record event Notes (e.g., a census Event Note), I transcribe the names exactly as they were written on the record.  If the name was indexed incorrectly by the data provider, I would note that also.  In the Note, I explain why you think the record pertains to your family.

For information in any record that I know (from personal knowledge, or from an evaluation of all evidence) to be false or wrong, I would discuss it in the Event Notes, or the Person Note, or the Research Note, so that others who use/see/find my database understand what I've found, how I analyzed it, and the evidence that drew me to a conclusion.

I also suggest that you become familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard (Evidence! Explained is a good start, but there are other resources, including websites, blog posts, webinars, videos and books) and practice it in your research and documentation efforts.

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Anonymous said...

I also often find name and date inconsistencies when I research my family. Just yesterday, I noticed that a great great aunt's last name is spelled with an "ie" on her gravestone and an "ei" in the newspaper obituary. I think the spelling in the obituary is the correct one--but I can't figure out how it could possibly be wrong on the gravestone. . . .Something for further research someday, but in the meantime just a note.

Sandy Scott said...

If I find a name spelled or transcribed wrong on a census that I've found on, I will add a correction note to the record there on Ancestry.

My surname was spelled incorrectly in the 1940 census and I couldn't find myself. I searched by my father's first name (very unusual) and found the record. I entered the correct spelling and now the record appears when I do a search on the surname (spelled correctly).

Sonja Hunter said...

Your reader should also keep in mind that we don't know who provided the information to the census taker (it could have been a neighbor). Also, we may be more hung up on spelling than people in the past. For example, I remember reading part of a journal from the Louis & Clark expedition and saw the same word spelled two different ways in the same sentence.

Jim's Girl said...

Thank you for posting this, Randy. After clicking on so many Ancestry records, I have numerous alternate facts cluttering my reports. I like your approach. It will be a godsend to anyone referencing your tree! As usual, Randy, you have reminded me that I have a lot of cleaning up to do in my tree.

I've been tied up with my new hobby "having cancer" and hadn't read your blog in too long. Oh, what I've missed!

Kate aka Jim's Girl