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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill  11/9/2005


From Elineny to Frederick and Back

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.

Before reaching any conclusion about a document, it's important to read each 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.)

The Name
Let's start with the part of this document that made it the most 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 be fine.

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 location.

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 birth certificate could be incorrect, especially if the informant was uncertain.

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 father's occupation is listed as just that: father.

Conclusion
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.

As 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:

  • Alternate spellings based upon phonetics
  • Alternate spellings based upon handwriting
  • Nicknames and diminutives
  • Typographical errors
  • If the time frame is correct
  • If the location is correct

General 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 document.

  • 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 knowledge 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.

Do not 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.


Michael 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 mjnrootdig@myfamily.com or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2005, MyFamily.com.

Other genealogy articles by Michael John Neill