Do Not Suggest Anything Secondary–Yeah, Get Real

I’ve used a version of this discrepancy chart in several lectures and presentations over the years. Only once has it gotten a strong negative reaction when a gentleman approached me and said:

You should not be suggesting people use secondary details in their search. You should be looking for this woman’s birth certificate.

Having issued his edict, he turned on his heel and walked away.

I understood his point: these are not actual records of Ida’s birth in this chart. They are records of other events that mention Ida’s birth. The individuals who provided the information about her birth in those records did not have first hand knowledge of it. I understand that.

There’s just one problem: Ida was born in Illinois, Missouri, or Iowa (according to the records on this chart and other records that have not been included in this chart) in 1874. None of those states kept vital records (either at the state or the local level) during the time period when Ida was born. There are no extant family bibles of which I am aware that include a contemporary record of Ida’s birth. The family apparently attended church sporadically (if at all) and do not appear to have been members of a denomination that practiced infant baptism. No church record of her birth has been located. There are no known extant family letters or diaries that contain a contemporary record of her birth. I periodically take another look at what might be available for Ida during the time period of her birth, so far nothing has surfaced.

The difficulty for Ida is the time period and the location of her birth. That’s the problem for many genealogists: some people were born in places and time periods when records were not kept.

I would dearly love to find something that provided the exact date and place of Ida’s birth. However, it’s probably not going to happen. And it may not be crucial to my search. That may sound like genealogy blasphemy–“not needing an exact date and place of birth,” but it’s not.

What is crucial is that I tie Ida to her parents. There are a variety of records that do that, particularly the 1880 census, her marriage application, and the institutional commitment papers of her father in the early 20th century. All three of those documents indicate that Ida is the daughter of Ira Sargent. The marriage application provides the names of both her parents. The census indicates who her father is (or at least what was told to the census taker and what is consistent with other records). The death certificate of she and her sister provide the same names for their parents that are listed on every other record. Of course, consistency is evidence of consistency, but at least there are no additional names floating around to be explained away. And I, Ida’s great-grandson, match other known descendants of Ira and two of Ira’s known siblings, at DNA levels consistent with the paper record. That’s a big plus as well.

It’s the relationship that is important. Precise dates are nice when they can be obtained, but that’s not always possible. What is fortunate in this case is that Ida’s ages all point to a relatively consistent range of birth dates.

What’s also important is that we obtain every record that we can. Sometimes those records are not as contemporary as we would like.

1874 in the midwestern United States is not the only place where one has to rely on secondary sources for birth information. There are many places where that reliance is necessary.

You won’t always get the precise date you want and you won’t always find a contemporary record that clearly states the fact you are trying to prove.


5 thoughts on “Do Not Suggest Anything Secondary–Yeah, Get Real

  1. Ha! try finding anything documented about anyone in PEI or Nova Scotia in 1800ish! Or knowing pretty positive which Ebenezer Ward was the one who left N.Y. in 1783 as a Loyalist. I am afraid I will die without solving this mystery. When I finally had his wife’s family I thought he would fall into place. Not. And even so I had to use history books to get her. So frustrating.

  2. When Wilma Flintstone & I first started genealogy, I was told 3 secondary is what you need for ‘Proof’. You have 3 that agree on the same date & others in the same general time frame, so I’d say you have ‘Proof’. Even the new US driver license/travel ID requires 3 secondary.

  3. What folk now consider proof astounds me. I agree that records can not always be found .Due to war ,pastor unknown ridding off with the Birth Marriage or death record, pastors personal family issues causing a lack of records ,these may never be found . In New England the early town records are suspect. Many accept the card file like records created by clerks in 1906 as required by the state, when even those original records may be copies made by a town clerk ,entered from family bibles that are long gone, from a family members recollection on a walk-in basis ,or from available church records,.People were born at home ,the exact day may be forgotten ,or the event may not be recorded. In the 1900’s and 2000’s since of original record for many places there are none, you will need to use a preponderance of evidence.

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