The purpose of this series is to illustrate, by using an actual example from the FamilySearch.org Family Tree, the process of correcting an existing entry and verifying the family line. I have chosen to examine the family of my Great-great-grandfather, Thomas Parkinson, (b. 12 December 1830, d. 3 March 1906).
If we were to graph the number and availability of genealogically significant records on a time scale, we would see a steadily decreasing curve beginning in the present and moving backwards in time. All sorts of records we commonly take for granted today, originated or were kept for the first time at some fairly recent date in the past. Some of these time limits are obvious, such as the fact that the first European settlers in Utah arrived in the early to mid-1800s so as we research into the past, there is a definite period when there are no longer any records that originate in Utah.
One, not so obvious, result of the steady decline in the availability of records as we move into the past is the compounded issue of people with the same or similar names and the inability of the record sources to differentiate between those individuals. Here is a summary list of some of the challenges of going back in time with historical research:
- The aforementioned decline in the number of record sources available
- A decline in the specificity of the records that makes it more difficult to distinguish unique individuals
- Spelling variations in names occurring before standardization
- Changes in terminology and language
- Handwriting or script variations and changes
- Shifting place names
- Changes in political, social and religious jurisdictions
- The increased possibility of the physical loss of records
Is it any wonder that there are "errors" in almost every online family tree? As I have previously pointed, the possibility of errors is compounded in a unified, collaborative family tree such as the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. But the strength of the Family Tree is in its apparent weakness. If everyone has a shot at correcting the tree, ultimately and inexorably, the Family Tree becomes more accurate. Unfortunately, there is no practical way to parachute into the upper branches of the Family Tree without spending your time carefully checking the strength and reliability of each branch as you climb. Jumping back to an "empty" slot in the Family Tree will practically guarantee that you are out on a limb with no visible means of support. If fact, the chances are very good that your selected individual is not related to you at all.
The reason I am writing this series is twofold; to demonstrate, from my own family line, the methodology involved in correcting errors in the accumulated data in the Family Tree and to explore and illustrate the types of errors that you will undoubtedly encounter as your proceed with your own research.
As I illustrate my points in this ongoing series, I would suggest that some of what I say might be repetitious. But the point here is that you can only reach a branch in your tree in a reliable way, but climbing up the same path each time. Repetition is not bad. Every time you review the same family, you may have additional insights into the complexity of the relationships.
Now, back to the Parkinsons. My Great-grandmother, Eliza Ellen Parkinson, was born in San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California on 8 September 1857. San Bernardino County was created on 26 April 1853 from Los Angeles County. The earliest birth records are reported to date from 1854, but this does not necessarily mean that my Great-grandmother's birth was recorded in the civil county records. The earliest records available from San Bernardino County on FamilySearch.org date from 1873, long after the Parkinsons left San Bernardino and returned to Utah. There are no helpful records for San Bernardino County, California on Ancestry.com for that time period either.
Now, the Family Tree has about 40 sources attached to her entry on the Family Tree. There were about six or so entries for "Eliza Tanner" from England and Virginia, but these were not sources for Eliza Ellen Parkinson Tanner in Arizona and were detached with an explanation of the reason.
Notwithstanding the relatively recent date of her birth, apparently, no one has found a birth record for her. Her death certificate has a calculated date of birth and shows the date of death as 17 August 1930 and her death at 72 years, 11 months and 9 days. There are online calculators that give the birth date. See Age Calculator. Accordingly, the calculation shows she was born on Tuesday, 8 September 1857, exactly in agreement with the recorded date on the Family Tree.
Question, do I need to spend my time looking for a birth record? The answer to this is, it depends. In this case, the death record and the assumed birth date agree. What if they do not agree? Then there would be a reason to determine a more accurate date. The lack of a birth date is not unusual. It does become much more important when the issue is trying to separate two people with the same or very similar name. Here, with Eliza Ellen Parkinson, her birthdate is recorded by a number of her children. But I do note that there is no reference to the Church records that likely are available and could contain a record of her birth.
But if I choose to do so, I could be justified is moving on from Eliza Ellen Parkinson to her parents and siblings. As a matter of fact, the exact birth and death date has been recorded, with some sources, for each of the Parkinson siblings, the children of Thomas Parkinson and Mary Ann Bryant.
Now it time to go back to Thomas Parkinson in the next installment.