Last week's column
discussed how potentially difficult it was to find a birth certificate
for my great-grandfather. This week we're going to take a closer look
at the document and discuss some general methodology for when a record
does not appear to be consistent with other information.
reaching any conclusion about a document, it's important to
item in detail and determine how reasonable each fact is compared to
other known information. (Readers who would like to view the document
under study can do so here.)
Let's start with the part of this document that made it the
difficult to find -- the name, Elineny Ufcuss. This is largest
discrepancy on the entire document. The last name is a reasonable
phonetic rendering of the actual last name of "Ufkes"
and is not a
concern. The first name is not reasonably close either of the two given
names of the known child: Frederick Jansen. Why the name was recorded
as Elineny is unknown. It is believed that the name was erroneously
recorded as a variant of the same name that is listed for the mother.
Color, Gender, Status of Parents and Tenth Child of the Mother
The certificate indicates the child was a white boy, born in wedlock.
The color and marital status of the parents was not in doubt and known
information on Noentjelena indicates Frederick was her tenth child.
These facts are right on the mark.
Date of Birth
The birth date is listed on the record as 8 October 1893. The "9" in
1893 could be read as a "7" but a careful examination
of the recording
date seems to imply that the year should be read as 1893. This October
date is consistent with other known information from christening
records, census records, and the death certificate. The date appears to
Place of Birth
The birthplace is listed as three miles east of Basco, Illinois. Those
of us with rural ancestors do not always have a place of birth this
precise. This location is consistent with the known location of the
Johann Ufkes farm at the time of Frederick's birth.
If I had
not known where the family lived in 1893, tax and real estate records
could have been referenced. The difficulty with most rural families is
determining their residence if they were not property owners. It is not
always possible to know where a rural family lived precisely as
specific directories are not always available. Families where the
father was a tenant farmer may be more difficult to place in a specific
Nationality of the Father and the Mother
Both parents are listed as being German. This is consistent with known
information about the parents so there is no problem here. Readers are
advised that occasionally the parents' places of birth on a
certificate could be incorrect, especially if the informant was
Maiden Name of the Mother
Eliney Grass. Frederick's mother's maiden name was known to be Grass.
While his mother's given name was actually Noentjelena, she is referred
to as "Lena" in several records. It seems reasonable that the Eliney
reference is simply a misunderstanding of the Lena nickname. In this
case, the nickname combined with the Ufkes family's native language to
result in one more "variant" spelling.
Name of the Father
It could be read as either "Thon" or "Jhon" Ufcuss, but I'm wagering
that the intent was "Jhon." Frederick's father
was actually named
Johann, which could very well have been pronounced in such a way as to
be rendered as "Jhon." Given the era, the only
occupation listed is one
for the child's father. Interestingly enough, the
is listed as just that: father.
The analysis of any document should always come to some conclusion. In
this case, I am confident that the located document is the birth
certificate of Frederick Ufkes. The only real discrepancy is in the
first name and in this case it does not appear that this one "mistake"
is enough to indicate the incorrect record has been located.
mentioned last week, indexes probably are not going to help me find
this record. While indexes are a great boon to the genealogist, there
are still times when a page-by-page search of the records is still
warranted. If an index does not turn up the desired entry, consider:
spellings based upon phonetics
spellings based upon handwriting
- If the
time frame is correct
- If the
location is correct
Guidelines for Records with Discrepancies
Whenever there is a chance that the wrong record has been located, it
is generally advised to analyze it line by line to see just how "off"
it is. There are also a few things to remember when reviewing any
- Mistakes Will Be Made
As long as humans create records, there is a chance that just about any
document contains at least one erroneous bit of information. I try to
constantly remind myself of this fact when analyzing any piece of
genealogical data. The problem is that sometimes it is not always easy
to determine what the error is, if there is one, which is why it is so
important to compare findings with those in other sources.
- Put the Item in Context
This can be done by reading other documents in the same record series
to see how specific things were noted or recorded and perhaps to become
better versed at reading the handwriting of the clerk. If you are
unfamiliar with the type of record being used, read several documents
besides the one you "really need."
- Learn the Language
If English was not your ancestor's native language, a working
of how they pronounced their name and their place of birth are very
helpful. This can assist you in determining what spelling variants are
reasonable and what spellings are not.
- Do Not Make Assumptions
Read the document with an open mind and remember that what you
originally think is incorrect may turn out to be precisely on the mark.
It may just be that there are details about the person or family that
you have yet to learn.
- Ask Questions
If there is something about the document that confuses you, ask. If the
record is a local county record, consider posting your query to the
appropriate county mailing list at RootsWeb.com.
Perhaps a local, familiar with the records, will be able to answer your
question. You may also wish to post the query to the appropriate state
mailing list or the Roots-L mailing list which can also be linked to
from the main list page at RootsWeb. Chances are someone has either
encountered your problem or one that is very similar.
assume you have the correct document when there are "issues." Analyze
the document, learn about the records, and get help if necessary. The
mistake you make today (even inadvertently) may send you down the wrong
branch of the family tree tomorrow.
John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of
Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also
on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael
is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical
Societies (www.fgs.org). He conducts
seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and
computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications,
including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing.
You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.