Given Name(s) Last Name

from the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 5/1/2002

Tiogeeeee or Not? Analyzing A Place of Birth

My grandmother's death certificate, obituary, and marriage record all list her place of birth as Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois. Two of these records are official documents and I have copies of all these items for my files. Yet there is a problem with these documents.

They all contain the "wrong" place of birth for my grandmother.

While these records are "original" sources (and not a transcription or an abstract), they are not a primary source for my grandmother's date and place of birth. They were all created years after my grandmother's birth. The death certificate is a primary source but for her death and burial information, not her birth information. The marriage record is a primary source for her date and place of marriage, but again not for her birth information. These documents contain information on my grandmother's place of birth. But because they were recorded many years after my grandmother's birth they are not a primary source for her birth information. To top it off, my grandmother would not be considered a primary source for information on her date and place of birth. No one is a primary source for our own date and place of birth—we were all very young when it happened!

Just because a source is primary does not mean it is always correct. And just because a source is not primary does not mean it is incorrect. A primary source for an event is a document that was created reasonably close to the time of the actual event from information obtained from someone who reasonably had first-hand knowledge of the event.

There are three documents that point to Grandma's date and place of birth. Two would be considered primary sources. The third source is circumstantial evidence that does not contradict the first two records. In some cases there will be no direct primary sources and a complete analysis of secondary sources is necessitated.

The first source is Grandma's birth record from 1910. Her birth certificate indicates she was born on 1 September 1910 in Elderville, Hancock County, Illinois. Elderville is a few miles east of Tioga, the town where Grandma thought she was born. The date of birth is the same one that Grandma always gave. The birth record, which could be wrong, is a primary source for information on my grandmother's date and place of birth.

The second source is Grandma's baptismal record from 1915. It was created five years after Grandma's birth, but it too indicates the exact same date and place of birth as the birth certificate. And Grandma, being five years old at the time is likely not the informant.

The third record is not a birth record. It just lends additional credence to Grandma's place of birth. In fact, Grandma is not even listed on this record. It is the 1910 census, taken the April before Grandma was born. Her parents are listed as living in Wythe Township, Hancock County, Illinois—the township that contains Elderville. This record is NOT proof that Grandma was born in Elderville. Grandma's father is listed as a farmer owning his own farm. While it is possible, the family likely did not move between the April date of the census and September when Grandma was born.

From Whence Tioga?
Virtually every other record on my grandmother indicates her place of birth was Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois. This is because on almost every other record for my grandmother, my grandmother is the informant (or where the informant got their information). Grandma always thought she was born in Tioga (Grandma always pronounced the word "Tio gee"—rhymes with the golf term bogey. Try finding that on a map!). Even after I discovered Grandma was not born where she thought she was, I rarely brought it up. It was not worth arguing about. I'm not certain exactly why Grandma thought she was born in Tioga, but it likely had to do with the fact that her father was born near there and that his family had lived in the area since the 1860s.

How Do I Handle this in My Own Records?
I record Grandma's place of birth in my records as Elderville, Hancock County, Illinois. However, I make a comment in my "notes" that Grandma believed she was born in Tioga (based upon conversations I had with her before she died). Consequently that village is listed as her place of birth on many of her records. It helps to explain the inconsistencies.

The Importance of Primary Sources!
Grandma's example brings home the importance of locating additional records and focusing on primary ones when they are available. In this case, some researchers might stop with a death and marriage record. After all, they provided consistent information regarding the place of birth. Why bother with the birth record when I already "have" the information it contains? This mindset can get us into trouble, especially in cases where the primary source is readily accessible and the person involved is a direct line ancestor. One may choose to not obtain birth certificates for third or fourth cousins. However, as a general rule I obtain records of vital events for all direct- line ancestors and even aunts and uncles where possible.

All Inconsistencies Go Away This Easily?
Of course not. Nor will one always have as many records as are available in this case. What one should do, however, is transcribe each document exactly as it is written or extract the desired information verbatim. All of the varying locations or dates should at least be entered in your notes, although most programs will allow you to enter in multiple dates of birth and death for an individual. Personally, I prefer to make one "big" note for the specific event and include appropriate transcriptions relevant to the specific event instead of having a myriad of birth dates or places. In that note, I analyze the varying information and state my conclusion. Including my reasoning is essential. This allows others to see my train of thought and decide whether they choose to agree with me or not. It also allows me to later read my reasoning and to decide for myself (based perhaps upon new information and knowledge) whether I wish to keep my original conclusion or change it.


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 the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2002,

Used by the author on his website with permission.

Michael John Neill Genealogy Articles

Genealogy Section of Ebay

---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!

1930 Census Online