Point and Click Oversights

The details have been stripped since some individuals involved are still living.

Working on a twentieth century family where there are multiple marriages and divorces can be confusing–names change and obituaries may not state relationships as precisely as one would like. The problem is compounded when the family never seems to stay in one place for more than a few years.

I had gathered a series of records on the family and developed an outline chronology to help keep the research on track. The only difficulty was one birth certificate that did not fit the rest of the chronology and implied that one family member had fathered a child with his third wife while he was still married to his second. While the seemingly inconsistent piece of data was frustrating the stated father would not have been the first man to father a child with his third wife while he was still married to his second. His occupation as a travelling salesman made the scenario a reasonable one.

And then I went back to the birth certificate from the World War II era, the one that was confusing. I looked at it again and it seemed straightforward. The certificate had been located using an online index that took me straight to the record. At the time of originally discovering it, I was “hot on the trail” of discoveries and neglected to look at other certificates filed before and after it.

Then I noticed something I did not before. The certificate of interest was typed. That was not unusual in the early 1940s. But something was.

The ten certificates filed before the certificate of interest were viewed. The ten certificates filed after the certificate of interest were viewed. They were for the same geographic location for births that were chronologically in order with the certificate of interest. All twenty were on the same form and handwritten by the same person (based upon the handwriting). The certificate of interest was a different form and it was typed.

Then I realized what the likely problem was.

I was not looking at the original birth certificate. The child in question was not born to the father and his third wife while he was still married to his second. The child was adopted by the father stated on the certificate sometime after he married the child’s mother as his third wife. The original certificate had likely been pulled when the child was adopted. That scenario made all the inconsistent details fit. It also explained why the certificate was different in appearance to the others.

Had I viewed the certificates onsite in their original form it may have been even easier to realize the certificate was different. The paper may have been a slightly different size. The color may have been different. The form would likely have stuck out.

That was impossible to determine when only looking at the image that was dished up to me after searching the index. An item should never be looked at out of context. There may be clues lurking in differences in the records.

And sometimes the biggest clues are the ones that are revealed to us in appearance only.

That’s not something if the only image we look at is the one that the database pointer takes us to.


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