Reconciling conflicting information–a case study

The fourth precept of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.” To read more, see “Reconciling conflicting information.”

Regardless of what fact it is you are trying to prove, it is necessary to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. This includes not only collecting all relevant records, but also analyzing and correlating the information. This process will almost invariably reveal conflicts. For this reason, the Standard requires that researchers consider the contradictory evidence.

1.         Gabriel Diggs, the son of George R. and Charlotte (Simmins) Diggs, was probably born on 10 September 1875, in Marlboro District, Prince George’s Co., Maryland,[1] and died on 2 December 1930, in Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s Co., Maryland.[2] On 15 May 1894, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland, Gabriel married first, Christianna Tolson,[3] daughter of William and Roxana (West) Tolson.[4] She was born ca. 14 October 1873, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland, and died on 9 April 1912, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland.[5] After Christianna’s death, Gabriel married Susie Lee, daughter of Jupiter and Harriet Ann (Young)[6] Lee.[7] She was born ca. 1885-1886, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland.[8]

Gabriel’s date of birth

Though he was born after the abolition of slavery, Gabriel Diggs was still born before the advent of vital registration in the state of Maryland. The first vital registration laws in Maryland were passed in 1865, but the birth and death registration programs were abandoned just a few years later. The state would not again begin recording births (outside of Baltimore city) until 1898.[9]

In order to estimate the date of birth with optimum accuracy, it is therefore necessary to correlate the dates and ages of multiple sources. Gabriel’s age is provided in the federal census enumerations for the years from 1880 through 1930; two separate marriage records; a military draft registration card; and his death certificate. Each of these records must be weighed according to its individual reliability, allowing us to come to a reasonable conclusion. The following chart shows the ages, stated or estimated dates of birth, and dates of record, for each source for Gabriel’s age.

Source

Date of Record

Stated Age

Date of Birth

1880 U. S. Census[10]

1 Jun 1880

5 yrs

btw. 2 Jun 1874-1 Jun 1875
1894 Marriage[11]

15 May 1894

21 yrs

btw. 16 May 1872-15 May 1873
1900 U. S. Census[12]

1 Jun 1900

24 yrs

“Apr 1876”
1910 U. S. Census[13]

15 Apr 1910

34 yrs

btw. 16 Apr 1875-15 Apr 1876
1915 Marriage[14]

25 Jun 1915

39 yrs

btw. 26 Jun 1875-25 Jun 1876
World War I Draft Card[15]

12 Sep 1918

43 yrs

“Sept. 10th 1875”
1920 U. S. Census[16]

1 Jan 1920

44 yrs

btw. 2 Jan 1875-1 Jan 1876
1930 U. S. Census[17]

1 Apr 1930

54 yrs

btw. 2 Apr 1875-1 Apr 1876
Death Certificate[18]

2 Dec 1930

53 yrs, 3 mos, 22 dys

10 Sep 1877

The 1918 draft registration card contains both primary information and direct evidence of Gabriel’s date of birth, provided by Gabriel himself.[19] The ages reported in the 1915 marriage record and the census records from 1910 through 1930 support this date.

Of the remaining sources of information concerning Gabriel’s age or date of birth, the conflicting information can be generally explained. Federal census records do not record the informant, and cannot be judged as simply as other records might; their reliability as sources of genealogical information therefore varies from record to record, household to household.

The earliest record in which Gabriel appears is the 1880 federal census, as a young child. This record reports his age as five years old.[20] It is not rare among census records to find a small child’s age to be slightly inaccurate, especially since there is no way to know whether or not the child’s parents served as informant for the record.

The 1900 federal census provides the correct age, but reports the month and year of Gabriel’s birth as April 1876.[21] Again, the informant for this record is not known, so its reliability cannot be empirically evaluated. In light of the other evidence, however, it would appear that the record is simply mistaken.

The 1894 marriage record likely contains primary information provided by Gabriel himself, yet conflicts by the greatest variance with the birth date provided on the draft card. Whereas all other records examined place Gabriel’s date of birth at around 1875 or 1876, this record states Gabriel’s age as 21 years of age, placing his date of birth in 1873. In 1894, the age of majority in the state of Maryland was 21 years, so it seems probable that Gabriel deliberately misstated his age on this marriage record so that he could be married without parental permission.[22] This theory is corroborated by the 1930 federal census record. In the column where it asks “Age at first marriage,” the census reports that Gabriel was first married at age 19.[23] If he was indeed nineteen years of age at the time of his 1894 marriage, then Gabriel would have been born ca. 1875, as other evidence suggests.

Finally, Gabriel’s death certificate records his date of birth as 10 September 1877. This is two years later than all other estimates, but shares the same month and day as Gabriel himself reported twelve years earlier on his draft card. Most death certificates are signed by the informant, but this certificate does not name the informant.[24] In this case, it appears that the informant was someone who knew Gabriel’s birthdate, but not his exact age.

All evidence thus being considered, it seems certain that Gabriel was born in either late 1875 or early 1876, and most probable that he was born on 10 September 1875.

SOURCES:

[1] See discussion under heading “Gabriel’s date of birth.”

[2] Maryland Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 16201 (1930), Gabriel Diggs; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. SR 3111.

[3] Prince George’s Co., Maryland, Marriage Record, Liber JWB 1, ff. 76-77, Gabriel Diggs and Christianna Tolson, 15 May 1894; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 7537-1.

[4] Maryland Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate not numbered, Christiana Diggs, 9 Apr 1912; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. SR 3025. 1880 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third District, ED 123, SD 3, pg. 40, dwelling 316, family 326, William Tolson household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Jan 2010); citing NARA microfilm T9, roll 513, FHL microfilm 1,254,513.

[5] Maryland death certificate, not numbered, Christiana Diggs, 9 Apr 1912.

[6] Prince George’s County Marriage Licenses, 1879-1886, f. 32, Jubiter Lee and Harriet Ann Young, 9 Jun 1883; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 50,230-7.

[7] 1910 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third Election District, Upper Marlboro Town, ED 62, SD 4, sheet 16B, dwelling 51, family 51, Jupiter Lee household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm T624, roll 567.

[8] 1910 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., 3rd Election Dist., Upper Marlboro Town, ED 62, SD 4, sheet 16B, dwg 51, fam 51, Susie Lee.

[9] For a general overview of Maryland vital registration laws, see Maryland State Archives, “Death Records,” online article, Guide to Government Records (http://guide.mdsa.net/viewer.cfm?page=death : accessed 23 Nov 2010).

[10] 1880 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third District, ED 123, SD 3, stamped page 66, page 11, dwelling not numbered, family 84, George Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 513, FHL microfilm 1,254,513.

[11] Prince George’s Co. Marriage Record, JWB 1: 75, Diggs to Tolson.

[12] 1900 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Melwood, 15th Election District, ED 107, SD 3, pg. 19B, dwelling 259, family 260, George R. Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm T623, roll 626.

[13] 1910 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third Election District, ED 62, SD 4, pg. 2B, dwelling 35, family 36, Gabriel Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 567.

[14] Prince George’s County Marriage Record, Liber BDS, ff. 76-77, Gabriel Diggs and Susie Lee, 25 Jun 1915; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 7538.

[15] “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com, Gabriel Diggs, serial no. 610, order no. 248, Draft Board 0, Prince George’s County, Maryland; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509, roll not cited, FHL microfilm roll no. 1,684,364.

[16] 1920 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Mellwood District, ED 90, SD 4, stamped page 123, sheet 11A, dwelling 195, family 206, Gabriel Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 674.

[17] 1930 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Marlboro District No. 3, ED 17-9, SD 5, stamped page 83, sheet 14A, dwelling 214, family 228, Gabriel Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 877.

[18] Maryland death certificate no. 16201 (1930), Gabriel Diggs.

[19] World War I draft registration card for Gabriel Diggs, serial no. 610, order no. 248, Prince George’s Co., Maryland.

[20] 1880 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., Third Dist., ED 123, SD 3, pg. 11, dwg not numd., fam 84, George Diggs h/h.

[21] 1900 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., Melwood, 15th Election District, ED 107, SD 3, pg. 19B, dwg 259, fam 260, Gabriel Diggs.

[22] Prince George’s Co. Marriage Record, Liber JWB 1, fol. 75, Diggs to Tolson, 15 May 1894.

[23] 1930 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., Marlboro Dist. No. 3, ED 17-9, SD 5, sheet 14A, dwg 214, fam 228, Gabriel Diggs.

[24] Maryland death certificate no. 16201 (1930), Gabriel Diggs.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Reconciling conflicting information–a case study,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 4 February 2012 (https://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent post, Michael! I’m going to save this for future reference.

    I’m curious about your statement that Gabriel’s draft registration card provides primary information of his birth, provided by himself. I’ve read and heard many genealogists say that one cannot provide primary information of one’s own birth date, that it can only be secondary. I struggle with this concept. Can you explain your reasoning for considering it to be primary information?

    Reply

    • That is a tricky one for sure. For me, this is one of those things that falls into a “gray area” between primary and secondary. It is true that one may not be an eyewitness to one’s birth. However, one’s own date of birth is also more likely to be learned and remembered at an early age, directly from either one’s parents or a written record contemporary with the birth.

      The bottom line in this particular case, is that Gabriel believed that this was his date of birth. The date agrees with most of the other information (except, of course, the contradictory evidence that must be reconciled), and–judging by the same date of birth being provided by his daughter on his death certificate–he told other people that this was his date of birth. So whether it is primary or secondary is actually a less important consideration than that it is likely the highest-quality and most reliable piece of information that we have concerning his date of birth.

      I guess I kind of ducked your question, but ultimately determining whether any piece of information is primary or secondary is only useful in judging its quality and reliability. The determination itself has no other intrinsic value.

      Reply

      • Good points. A couple of sentences that I really like in your explanation:
        1. “. . .its is likely the highest-quality and most reliable piece of information that we have concerning his date of birth.” and
        2. “determining whether any piece of information is primary or secondary is only useful in judging it’s quality and reliability.”

        This makes perfect sense and expresses the sort of gut-feeling difficulty that I’ve always had in making that “primary or secondary” designation. This is a big help. Thanks!

  2. [...] complex conclusions. This does not necessarily mean that the conclusion has to be difficult. The proof argument concerning Gabriel Diggs’s date of birth is a relatively straightforward argument. By meeting the conditions of the Standard even on [...]

    Reply

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