Column: The Flaws in Government Records

Between today and Wednesday, my genealogy column, Roots to the Past, is available in the following Atlantic Canada newspapers:

Saturday: The Citizen (Amherst)

Saturday: Times & Transcript (Moncton)

Wednesday: The Lunenburg County Progress Bulletin (Lunenburg County)

Title: The Flaws in Government Records

Snippet: As genealogists, we look to official government records as a source for facts. We have come to depend on the information found in them to anchor our research, to make it concrete. But the truth is, sometimes—many times—government records contain errors. The most dependable information on a record is the details concerning the event it is recording.

For example, if it is a marriage record, you can be (almost) certain the details about the marriage (place, date, witnesses) are correct. All other pieces of information (ages, names of parents and birth place of bride and groom) may be incorrect. This might be due to the misinformation—whether intentionally or unintentionally—provided by the couple or because the person recording it made a mistake.

Recently my grandfather’s death certificate was released to the public. He died in 1965, two years before I was born. I knew him only through public records and family stories. Like most genealogists, I anxiously read the document, hoping to find a piece of information I didn’t already have. My excitement soon turned to disappointment as I read one mistake after another. His birth year may or may not be correct, and his birth place, his ethnic origin, his father’s birth place, and his father’s middle initial were all incorrect. His mother was unknown.

. . . To read more, pick up one of the above noted newspapers.

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