Was it common to lie about age to draft board or census taker

+11 votes

From the research notes on the profile:

He may have lied about his birth date (1900) when enlisting for WW I. He is 8 years old in the 1910 census and his parents have been married for nine years. If the 1900 birth date is correct he would have been born before the parents married and they could have lied to the census taker about the age of their son. The Minnesota Death Index has the birth year as 1901.

I guess I would need the birth record that I have not found yet. Can you please help?

WikiTree profile: Carl Sullivan
in Genealogy Help by Juha Soini G2G6 Pilot (108k points)

yes it was common to lie to enlist either stating you were  older if too young: or youger if too old, see for eg

 https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Martin-51875 and


 and i guess people might lie on a census form to hide what would have been then slightly  embarrassing 

Almost anyone will lie if they they don't see the advantage in the factual truth at that time laugh the stuff at the so-called dating sites demonstrates this, and the filing of IRS returns, and he said/she said arguments ... 

Wm. C. Sullivan

 in the Web: Minnesota, Birth Index, 1900-1934

Name: Wm. C. Sullivan
Birth Date: 5 Oct 1901
Birth Place: Pope, Minnesota, USA
Father's Surname: Sullivan
Mother's Maiden Name: Qinter
Certificate Number: 1901-19179

I have one guy whose age and DoB is correctly given in the immigration documents, but later "adjusted" by him so he could avoid the (US) draft during the 1914 1917-1918 war.  He stayed with the "adjusted" date for the rest of his life.
People lie for their own reasons. 

There is also that our forebears weren't quite as obsessed with date accuracy as we are.  A child might be born "before Lady Day (year)", or "just after Christmas (year)", or "in the spring the year of the great fire", or "in the winter the year of the great freeze".  Interpreting that could be interesting, as those types of events happened all over.

5 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

Perhaps it is easier to think of ages in census records and draft records as convenient - sometimes a lie, sometimes an error, and  sometimes - the respondent just did not know and as a reply was required an estimate was made.  The same is true for most records.  Marriage records are a convenient example.  That 15 year old girl probably knew she was not 16 or 18 but she definitely want to have that marriage license - whatever the reason - and did not want a piece of paper to stand in the way.
by Philip Smith G2G6 Pilot (311k points)
selected by Juha Soini
+9 votes
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Actually, looking further there appears to be a Carl William born 1899, Brainerd, Minnesota, with father William J and a Calvin William born abt 1900 with father William John. Maybe someone will be able to sort out if one or 2 people?
+11 votes
I am a census taker today and they will lie even now.  I was clearing addresses that were under construction and the home builder gave me the name and phone number of their CEO as the person I was talking to.  We called back for a quality audit of the data and discovered the lie and now have to reconstruct the data even though the answer is still the same.  If he had just said that I refuse to give that info, we would have been fine.  But one lie gives question to all the data.
by Gurney Thompson G2G6 Pilot (311k points)
+7 votes
The 1900 U.S. Census asked for both age and month + year of birth. Although the information on month and year of birth is often valuable for genealogists, I have the impression that this feature of the census also introduced quite a few errors because the people who created the records were arithmetically challenged.

Sometimes the date and age are incongruent. For example, a child might be reported as born in November 1889 and age 11, when they were only age 10 as of the date of the census. Was this a miscalculation by the census taker after the family told the census taker that the child was 11 and was born in November, or did the census taker miscalculate age after the family said the child was born in November 1889, or did the family report the age and birth date inconsistently?

I have seen a number of instances where either age or date of birth was later changed on the census sheet to correct an incongruent pair of values (such as changing the age from 11 to 10 when the birth date is recorded as November 1889), but it is not clear what basis the census workers had for deciding which of the two values was wrong.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
+7 votes
My dad's older brother had a disagreement with my grandfather and so he and his friend ran away and joined the Navy.  They both lied about their ages.  My uncle was 6'1'' so no one questioned his age.  Then I had trouble for awhile locating him in census and military service records as I had no idea what he put down as his birth.  In his later life, once married etc, he went back to using his real birth date.
by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (772k points)

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