We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.
Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.
Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”
Records Say the Darnedest Things:
Darned Boys in Dresses
Note this family in the 1870 census.1
Here’s the same family in the 1880 census.2
“Harriet Gray, a female born about 1865 in the 1870 census, has become Harry, a male,” wrote Melinda Daffin Henningfield in an article about the family.3
Other, independent, evidence corroborated the name “Harry.” At that point, I would have been all done. Problem solved.4
But the genealogical proof standard requires another step: resolution of conflicting evidence.5
That step had always been a bit of a mystery to me until Thomas W. Jones’s book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.6 In my mind a matter is not resolved until it is proven. Jones clarified what is needed. “Resolving the conflict requires us to separate the evidence into likely-correct and likely-incorrect answers, discard the incorrect answers, and justify or explain that separation and discarding.”7
In Melinda’s article, I saw this practice in action. She wrote,
The informant for the Gray family in the 1870 and 1880 censuses is unknown. In the 1860s, “[u]ntil about age five, boys were kept in skirts.” (Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 [Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1995], 210) The enumerator in 1870, perhaps not being familiar with the family, may have seen Harry in a skirt and heard Harriet.8
Simple, direct, and a reasonable explanation for the conflicting evidence.
Thank you, Melinda for helping teach me about resolution of conflicting evidence.
1. 1870 U.S. census, Mississippi County, Missouri, population schedule, James Bayou Township, p. 9 (penned), dwelling 71, family 74, Harriet Gray; digital image, FamilySearch ((https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11124-71625-0 : accessed 4 May 2014); NARA microfilm M593 roll 792.
2. 1880 U.S. census, Hickman County, Kentucky, population schedule, Columbus Magisterial District #1, ED 113, p. 10 (penned), dwelling 95, family 104, Harry C.; digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11683-20386-27 : accessed 4 May 2014); NARA microfilm T9, roll 420.
3. Melinda Daffin Henningfield, “Susannah or Mary: Who Was the Mother of Robert White Gray (1858-1935) of Hickman County, Kentucky,” Crossroads, Winter 2014, 16-25.
4. I wrote about growing knowledge and practices—maturity—in a series of articles. “Genealogical Maturity Model,” The Ancestry Insider, blog (http://www.ancestryinsider.org/2010/10/genealogical-maturity-model.html : accessed 4 May 2014). This post contains links to the other articles in the series.
5. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogical Standards, Thomas W. Jones, editor, 50th Anniversary Edition (Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry.com, 2014), especially pp. 1-3. Also see “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for the Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : accessed 4 May 2014).
6. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
7. Ibid., 74. He continues with three situations in which the reasoning can be applied. I’ll not detail them here. Buy the book.
8. Henningfield, “Susannah or Mary…”, 20.