Monday, February 24, 2014

You have to be REALLY careful . . .

I was sorting through some boxes the other day and came upon something that reminded me of how careful genealogists must be in analyzing various records. I suppose many of us have the idea that "official records" are always to be trusted, and especially more modern ones. But not so. The information on an "official record" is only as reliable as the person who gave the information.

What I found was my grandmother's death certificate. She died in 1980, not that long ago in the big scheme of things. I was looking at it and saw a very glaring error. It said that her father's name was Joseph Edenholm. Not so; her father was David Edenholm. How did this mistake happen? Well, the informant was my sweet mother. You'd think she'd have known the name of her grandfather, but obviously not. In fact she never met her grandfather, since he lived in Sweden. He had been dead more than 40 years, and so wasn't really much in her consciousness. Add to that the stress that is always present when you are coping with the death of a loved one. She probably remembered that her grandfather had the same name as one of her uncles, and then picked the wrong uncle. Perhaps she was confused by the fact that her grandfather was David Ferdinand Edenholm, and her uncle Joe was Joseph Ferdinand Edenholm. But whatever the reason, now there it is, inscribed on an "official record" that is guaranteed to throw some future genealogist way off the trail.

A good reminder that a death certificate is a primary source only as to the date of death. Information about date and place of birth and names of parents can only be regarded as secondary information, since they are provided (in most cases) long after the fact and most often by people who weren't there at the time.

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