From: krazylisa firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been checking the census regularly for information on my family and have run into a problem. On the same family for 3 census records I have different [ages] for ancestors. In other words, the 1910 census [reports] the birth year as 1910. In the 1920 census it said birth about 1912. And in the 1930 census it said birth date 1901. Where do I find facts please? This is the only family I have found such blatant errors on.
This is a common problem. Remember that in the US Federal Census records on microfilm and online, we're looking at a copy of a copy. IE, the enumerator or supervisor made a copy for the state and one to be sent to the federal government. We're looking at the National Archives' copy. So anticipate the following possibilities:
#1 - There can be transcription errors.
#2 - People (most notably women) fibbed about their age.
#3 - Neighbors may have reported the approximate age.
#4 - Sometimes people just didn't know their own birthdates.
#5 - With age, parents/individuals forget things. Actual birthdates weren't as important as having a roof over one's head and food on the table.
#6 - etc., etc., etc.
Anyway, a census record isn't a primary record documenting birth. However it can LEAD you to records in a specific area that DO mention birth. We're always looking for the most "first-hand" info on an event in an ancestor's life, such as:
-- A birth record maintained by the town, county or state government is probably more reliable.
-- A christening record from the local church can put you in the ballpark for the birth date. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, such as those areas where the circuit-riding preacher came town only every few years. At that time he might solemnize a marriage of a couple and then christen the first two children born of the union. This doesn't mean they lived in sin, since the community accepted this practice and recognized the couple as "married."
-- A family bible entry might provide clues.
-- A tombstone, though much removed from the birth event, might report the date. Let's hope the tombstone cutter was accurate, or if not, that the family had enough money to commission a new stone.
Reporting such inconsistencies is as simple as pie. You merely place the most likely or believable date in the birth date field, and report all the discrepancies in the notes field for that ancestor. That way, those who follow will have the full picture.
Happy family tree climbing!
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