Notes on Names, Dates and Places

As we all know, at least anyone that’s done any genealogical research, records differ from year to year and decade to decade; and indeed event to event. I’ve seen records where dates were more than 10 years off as if they either couldn’t remember or purposefully choose to forget parts of their lives; or lazy enumerators. Where my research leads to a particular conclusion, i.e. attaching a person to a record or to a family or an event, I attempt to add appropriate notes complete with my reasoning of why I arrived at a specific conclusion.

All researchers at some point simply decide which of the options presented suits their preference. You have to make a conscience decision as to what you want to present as your genealogy to the rest of the world. You pick which name spelling to use, you pick which records accuracy to propagate as “accurate” and you pick which place names to use as birth, death, marriage and residences.

With this in mind I offer the following statements, a guide if you will, on how to use the information I provide. How I arrived at my conclusions, the logic I used to determine which of the available options I choose to present.

When I find something that alters my original assumption I update my research across all platforms: Ancestry.com; RootsWeb World Connect Project and this blog so as to present the most up-to-date and accurate research possible. I intend on continuing my research to my last breath so it’s best to check back here often.

Each sub-heading below presents its own unique set of circumstances that force our hand as to what direction to go but for the most part keep these things in mind when evaluating if my information is, and my assumptions are, valid and logical:
  1. For the most part, we are working from transcriptions by others and often don’t have access to the original documents to verify.
  2. In census records we have to remember we are working from the enumerator’s idea of names and their spellings. More often than not those in the household couldn’t read or write.
  3. Enumerator’s only spoke with one person in the household so depending on who that was they may not have known accurate information to give. This assumption definitely answers the question as to why years of birth were often way off based against other records.
  4. When dealing with biblical names they should be spelled as they are in the bible. (Ex. Absalom, Elisha, Elijah, etc…)
Proper Names:

When I come across records or documents for an individual and their name is spelled one way then the next or more recent (usually) record spells it another, I chose to go with the more up-to-date version. A prime example of this is Rebekah vs. Rebecca. Another good example is Absolom vs. Absalom. We need to keep in mind when choosing what spelling we use number 4 above. Also keeping in mind how poor some of these ancestors where, spellings on headstones can also be inaccurate - engravers were paid by the letters/numbers engraved and some where obviously "home engraved" by some family member.

I try to present full and correctly spelled names in all of my work but where nick-names are the only thing available then we have to use it. My work on Ancestry.com and RootsWeb for most individuals can be found by both nicknames and full names. I'm still backtracking to make this change to all individuals.

Dates:

Dates are tricky especially when dealing with our earliest ancestors. As some point, where no reliable source exists that states it outright, we have to look around other family members and other known data to arrive at a logical assumption.

I’ve seen others research that presents parents born after listed children. I’ve seen others work that present a first birth where the mother’s age would have been prepubescent.

As an example in the Echols line we can look at a record from Ancestry.com from their “Family Data Collection - Individual Records about Richard Echols” collection. It states the following:
Name: Richard Echols
Spouse: Cahterine Caty Evans
Parents: John Echols, Mary Cave
Birth Place: King and Queen, VA
Birth Date: 1714
Marriage Place: VA
Marriage Date: 1740
Death Place: Pittsylvania, VA
Death Date: 15 Jan 1778
Date of Birth (DOB) is 1714 but we know that can’t be correct since his father John Echols (mother Mary Cave) died in 1712. I believe 1714 is most likely 1704 and was probably transcribed wrong others attach 1706 as Richards DOB.

Also notice the marriage date. If Catherine was born abt. 1700, almost all records point to this date, then by this record she was already 40 years old. Rather old for a first, and as far as we know only, marriage. And we have children attributed to this couple born as early as 1721/1722.

So as you can see, dates present special problems forcing us to use logical assumptions to select what we wish to present to the world.

Place Names:

In an attempt to give the most accurate information, something I truly wish others would do, I spell-check everything. It’s very disconcerting to come across a nicely done posting with useful information but full of spelling errors; not just people’s names but city names, towns or township names, county names and even state names.Not only spelling but names of places that according to history didn't exist or was an "about" name, "...about the area XXX Creek...". Where I can't determine the historical legitimacy of an areas name I use only the county and state name.

Place names, i.e. names of places of birth, death, marriage, etc…, presents a unique challenge that most researchers ignore. You must have a talent and passion for history. Lines on maps changed frequently over the years as they still do today. What was once, for example, Monroe County, Virginia later became Monroe County, West Virginia in 1863 when they were granted statehood. So when you find records on sites like FamilySearch.org that are transcribed as “State of West Virginia” records, look for the date. If the event happened prior to 1863 then it did not happen in the STATE of West Virginia as it didn’t yet exist. Monroe & Greenbrier Counties both where in Virginia prior to West Virginia being granted statehood in June of 1863. (see British Colonies to United States Timeline for more information)

Some individuals that we have records for state outright where they were born and indeed some headstones and markers state birth and death places, but when we see records, especially census records with 10 year gaps, constantly changing place of birth not only for a specific individual but also - in census records starting with 1880 - parents places of birth, we have to use our own logic and available resources to reach our conclusions

Either the enumerator didn't care and simply placed every individual in the same state or the informant didn't know, whichever the case these records present difficulties in attaching family members or whole families together. Sometimes we have to make huge leaps. Where that is the case with my own research, I present my reasoning thus leaving it to the reader to determine for themselves.

These are just a few examples out of countless that require the use of our own best guesses arrived at by logic and the available research at our disposal to choose what we wish to propagate to the world as accurate genealogical research.