Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Do The Math!

One of my favorite genealogists and speakers is Arlene Eakle. Arlene puts out a blogfeed that is usually out of this world! And today's was no exception!

Today Arlene told about the May 9th speech of Senator Barak Obama that is now infamous; this is the speech in which he announced to Beaverton, OR that he had now been in "...57 states. I think one left to go."

Oh my! Senator Obama your gaffe is showing!

Arlene then brings up my favorite pet peeve [believe me, my hubby knows when I am poring over some other genealogists research and he hears me "snort" that I have located another "gaffe"]. I'm talking about the bad math.

Come on people! How hard is it to drag out the ol' calculator? Or as Arlene points out, "Calculators are easy to come by and every cell phone, ipod, etc. has a built in calculator."

Just this week I have been researching a particular family from Illinois that has some rather extensive research performed. This tree has been published by multiple individuals. MULTIPLE!!! And every single one of these researched trees has one particular man listed who was born a year after he died!!! Yeah, you can bet I'm still snorting over that one!

Arlene gives us four math ideas that can really be a death trap for the genealogist, and are well worth repeating here for your own improvement:

Fuzzy math: Arlene states that this is when you estimate a birth date from the age found in a census record. We've all done that at some point, right? And we've all found out at a later point that the particular date of birth found in one census record can vary from census record to census record. I recently did a report on a gentleman who married a woman twenty years his junior. His marriage record jives with his death record. However, each of the census records in between the marriage and death [and there were 4] varied his age from only a year older than her to the last showing him as forty years older! [He had "aged" 60 years between their first married census record to their last, in only 40 years!] Fuzzy math can give you an idea of a persons age; but I wouldn't rely too heavily on it for proof!

Bogus math: Arlene says that this is the math that occurs when you have an exact birth date for the first child, and you adjust the estimated birthday of the mother to match it. Oh, my! Such a big no, no! I have seen reports on families where the mother would have been 10 years old when she died! Or 150 years old! Let's use a little "common" sense folks! If it doesn't fit, don't try to make it fit!!!

Destructive math: This occurs when a death date is taken from a tombstone or a will for the wrong man in the wrong generation. Hey, this one is quite easy to goof with! In my own family tree, I have 4 generations of William M.'s. On top of that, many of the other sons named their own son after a William M. All of whom lived in a single county. I believe at one point, there were seven of these William M.'s all living in the county at the same time. Multiple generations with this particular moniker! We have to be so careful to make sure we have the correct person to fit in our research. If you take down the information, and it doesn't jive with the known facts, then it probably is not the correct person you are looking for. Look, if you're looking for John Smith's death date, and you've already got his correct birth date, from a proven source, [his birth was registered in Richmond, Virginia in 1832 - for instance], but you visit the cemetery that you think he is buried at, you discover his tombstone, and it says he died "1956", my friend, you have NOT discovered your John Smith's grave! Come on!! 124 years old! No, again we must go back to the "common sense" issue!

Lastly Arlene talks about Speculative math: this is when you match the age of the wife at first marriage to the actual date stated in the marriage records - especially where the wife carries a common first name - such as Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, etc. Arlene states, [and I have found this to be true] that a surprising number of men choose a second wife with same given name as the first! Also, a surprising number of men chose a second wife that was an older or younger sister of the first! Sometimes even a third wife has the same given name or same surname! You must not do this gaffe: List the wife's date of birth as the same date they were married on! At least not in this country, newborn babies are not, were not, wed to their spouse! And certainly didn't begin bearing their children when they were only a year old! Again, if it doesn't match up with PROVEN sources, it probably isn't so!

If you insist on recording a "gaffe" then you must also insist upon your own professionalism to show where that error is wrong. I am sure that I have let some of these errors get through and past my research, but when they are noted, and I cannot find proof I will refuse to list them as notable in my research. Let me give you an example:

I might have a client who tells me that their grandpa was born in 1834 and died in 1833. Hmm! I tell myself this is absolutely impossible. But what do I do if I cannot provide proof of the correct date for either event? And I know the client has truly believed that their dates are correct. [Oh, it was in Mama's Bible or some such thing.] Well, I don't put the information in my proven data. [If you use a genealogy program, I don't put it into my birth or death date data areas]. Instead, I make a note under my notations that the client supplied me with the birth date of 1834 and the death date of 1833. This being a physical impossibility, I could not include it as proven data. However, I located marriage records indicating that a possible birth year was 1777. And there were no further Census records beyond 1830. Therefore we can assume he was born about 1777 as his marriage records indicated, and died after the 1830 Census, yet before the 1840, making the death year of 1833 given by the client as plausible but not proven.

Arlene states something quite similar: "State the date you have. Identify the record or source which supplied the date. Do not adjust or shrink to fit or push the 'make it fit button' on your computer. Let the records stand with their evidence. Then in a separate paragraph describe your own interpretation of the evidence based on all of the records you have researched. Include the math."

Arlene speaks so eloquently: "Obama cannot visit 57 states, with one more to go - there are only 50 to begin with." Do the math!

Your Mountain Genealogists

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