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
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:
http://www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with
Copyright 2002, MyFamily.com.
Used by the author on his website with permission.