Opinion

Keep your magnifying glass ready

It’s common for genealogists to encounter conflicts in records when they research.  In an earlier column I’ve stated that the vital record copy of a birth, marriage, or death is considered correct even if there are errors.  But what if vital records don’t agree? When that happens it’s time for genealogists to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes, don their deerstalker caps, grab their magnifying glasses, and start analyzing the documents for clues.  

For example, I recently came across a marriage record from 1947 for Dale Dill and Catherine Severance.  The marriage certificate recorded Dale’s parents’ information and he stated his mother, Mary Dobson, was born in Montreal, Canada.   

However, I have Dale’s birth record which clearly states his mother was born in Canaan, New Brunswick as do the records of Dale’s siblings.  While both provinces are in Canada there’s a vast distance between Montreal in Quebec and Canaan Station in New Brunswick.  Both records are official so clearly more work needs to be done to determine which, or neither, is correct.

A few things should strike the researcher immediately.  While Dale gave answers for his parents’ information he obviously wasn’t around when his mother was born or could remember his own birth.  But Mary Dobson Dill was there and very likely was the one to report her birthplace.  Most researchers would lean toward New Brunswick as the likely birthplace and consider Montreal a fluke of Dale’s memory.  But there are other possibilities including that the family moved to New Brunswick while Mary was young.

Minus the deerstalker cap (I look awful in hats), I set out to see if this conflict could be resolved.   And on Ancestry.com I found the 1917 Maine marriage record of Bernice M. Dill and Mary E. Dobson, he from Springfield and she a resident of Howland.  On that certificate, Mary stated that her birthplace was Canaan, New Brunswick, and that both her parents were born in Canaan as well.

I also discovered that Dale’s siblings’ marriage records all indicated their mother was born in Canaan.  Since the Dills are my second cousins this is probably as far as I will pursue this, but if it were a direct line I’d try to find if the New Brunswick records have more on the Dobsons of Canaan.  According to the marriage certificate Mary’s father was dead by 1917 and her mother was in Howland working, so an earlier Canadian census might yield more details on the family.

In this case it was relatively simple to confirm Mary’s birthplace, but sometimes it can be trickier to establish which vital record is correct or if both are wrong.  Sometimes you will find three records, birth, marriage, and death and none will agree completely but remember information given by the person who was present at the event is the more likely to be true.  If you haven’t come across a situation like this while researching the odds are you will, so keep the magnifying glass and that deerstalker cap handy.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com. Her semimonthly column is sponsored by the Aroostook County Genealogical Society which meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Caribou Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.

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