Relative Precise Certainty

Summarizing too much can lead to incorrect statements.

I reviewed the information on my ancestor table and looked at several of the entries, some of which I summarized in order to save space. If we are not careful a summarization may say something that we do not actually mean to say. My 3rd great-grandmother’s entry is a good example:

Marie Gerdes Wilken Bruns (1831 Wiesens, Ostfriesland – before 1877 Hancock County, Illinois).

Actually the date of death for Marie should be “before 29 August 1877” as that is the date her husband, Hinrich Jacobs Fecht, married his subsequent wife. Saying “before 1877” is not technically accurate as Marie could have died in the early part of 1877. Of course it is possible that Hinrich and Marie divorced, but since there is no local divorce record for them it has been concluded that she simply pre-deceased Hinrich.

The date of death for Marie should indicate that “based upon her husband, Hinrich’s marriage in Carthage, Illinois, on 29 August 1877 to Mrs. Antje Habben, it is surmised that Marie was dead by that date.” It is possible that Marie moved away and divorced Hinrich, but not too probable. This statement about Marie’s date of death clearly states how that date was arrived at without getting too bogged down in the citation. It is not necessary to go into laborious detail, but dates for events that include “before” or “after” as part of the date should give some indication of how that approximate date was determined.

It could be buried in a footnote. But not everyone reads footnotes and sometimes footnotes end up not being included with the actual text.

One problem with using “before” or “after” as a qualifier to dates is that people strip the qualifier and end up saying the person died on the date instead of before or after it.





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