Friday, January 17, 2014

Before we get started, some notes on research

Before I start delving too deep into family histories, I thought I’d mention some general observations that I’ve noticed on my journey of genealogical research.

  • People had a lot of names, and weren’t afraid of changing between them at will. Katherina  Sophia Magdalena Carolina Kirschtorte was baptized as such in Germany (she is not a real person to my knowledge, but that is an awesome name and a reasonable example of what German babies were being baptized as in the 1800’s). When Katherina Sophia Magdalena Carolina moved with her family to America, she decided to go by Kate, and on her first US census record (say 1850) she is recorded as Kate S. For whatever reason, over the course of ten years, Kate decides she prefers her fourth name; so for the 1860 census, she identifies herself as Carrie M (taking from Caroline and Magdalena). By 1880, maybe she’s back to Kate.  
  • Long story short: having up to four given names wasn’t unheard of, and at any given time an individual could be using any combination of those names as a first and middle name in American records.

  • It appears that some women may have adopted their maiden name as their middle name after they were married. Virginia Mary Kingston, after marrying William Smith, might appear as Virginia K. Smith in records. I notice this custom more in families of English descent.

  • Dates were not an exact science; especially, the older the person is, the more room for error there is when they self-report on census records. This makes more sense to me the older I get; at the ripe old age of… 27? I think? I really have to stop and think about how old I am. It’s not at the front of my mind as it was when I was a child. So, I imagine if I was a 50-year-old immigrant farmer with no digital technology keeping track of dates for me, and the census taker came by and asked me things like how long ago I was born, how long ago I came to America, and how long I’d been married—not gonna lie, I’d be making those numbers up. My husband will tell you how upset I get when he asks me what years events happened in.  
  • In short: birth dates, arrival dates, marriage dates, etc. obtained from census records, etc. should be taken only as an estimation of the true year (which may never be known with absolute certainty unless the original document from that event is available). 
  • As a rule of thumb, I take dates from gravestones as having the most weight, as they are carved in stone. (Hah! Hah! Puns!)

  • A further note on  dates: birth/marriage/death dates and locations may come up with several options for each individual. This appears to be because these records are filed at different government levels (say, county and state). A person may have been living at an address in Lancaster, died at a hospital in Madison, and was buried in Platteville—so that leads to different records in different municipalities, leading to multiple interpretations for the death location. Dates can also be off by a few days, probably because of the date the event happened vs. the date the event was filed with the government office. Another oddity I’ve noticed about dates is that different government-issued documents may have very similar dates, only missing a digit or a year just one off—for example, 12 Nov 1882 vs 2 Nov 1882, or 12 Nov 1882 and 12 Nov 1883.  
  • Short story: Absolute values of dates and locations can be tricky and open to a certain amount of interpretation.

So, these are my own amateur observations that I keep in mind as I explore family history.

1 comment:

  1. It's worth noting that some European countries didn't switch to the Gregorian calendar until the early 1900's. Some churches continued to use the Julian calendar after their governments switched would could explain date differences between them.