She died probably in Nicholas County, Kentucky, after the 1850 federal census enumeration.

I debated how to write the sentence. Should it be “She probably died in Nicholas County, Kentucky, after the 1850 federal census enumeration,” “She died probably in Nicholas County, Kentucky, after the 1850 federal census enumeration,” or something similar.

I went with the second iteration for two reasons:

  • Anyone alive in the 1850 census enumeration is dead. There is no “probably” about it.
  • The “probably,” or more accurately the fact that I do not have a document that explicitly states where she died, is actually a qualification of her place of death. Nicholas County is probably where she died.

My statement needs to say that.

It may seem like nitpicking. It is.

Genealogical writing is about being as accurate as we can be and reflecting as accurately as we can what we “know” from the records we have accessed, the information they contain, and our interpretation of those records.

Thinking carefully about what we know, what we “probably” know (or surmise), and what we don’t know is time well spent. It forces us to refine our analysis and our interpretations. It reduces the chance we make statements that are not supported by the records.

That does not stop a careless researcher from taking my “probably died in Nicholas County” statement and phrasing it as “died in Nicholas County.”

We can’t take responsibility for how others interpret our statements.

And there’s no “probably” in that.





4 thoughts on “Probably

  1. Jane Coryell says:

    I say “she died between 1850 and 1860, probably in Nicholas County… Then I cite the 1850 and 1860 censuses.

    • mjnrootdig says:

      I thought about that, but there’s always a small chance she was alive but not enumerated in 1860 (although chances are she probably would have remained with the child with whom she was living in 1850). To be really complete, I’d probably indicate that she was not enumerated with any of her known children in 1860 and can’t be located anywhere in 1860.

  2. What you have is fine, although to be reeeaaalllly precise, you could say “she died sometime after the 1850 census, probably in Nicholas County.”

  3. My thought was that it needs a comma after died. Parentheses would also work well.

    She died (probably in Nicholas County, Kentucky) after the 1850 federal census enumeration.

    You know she died after the 1850 federal census enumeration. Where she died, and exactly when, are not known.

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