What should take precedence? The birth information on the tombstone on Find A Grave, or the Death Certificate?

+8 votes
in Genealogy Help by Kenneth Willingham G2G6 Mach 1 (14.1k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

6 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer
Depending on the timeframe and location, you might be able to find additional records. For example, if you are in the timeframe in the US you can look at the social security death index (you must show birth certificate to get social security). Other clues are census record approximations (depending on how large a discrepancy) or draft registration records.

If you have a profile to link to in your question, maybe we can help more.
by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
selected by Kenneth Willingham
The profile is Freels-145.  I will continue to research, but am appreciative of any and all help.  Thank you all.
September is tough. Suggest you look at the dates on each census vs her reported age. Unfortunately, her siblings aren’t close enough in birth to figure it out that way.

Just this week I found a death certificate off by 10 years, guess they got her age wrong.
In a case when no additional evidence can be developed, other than the two mentioned, the death certificate would take precedence as it is an official document. You should also record the conflicting grave information in your notes section. Both fit the definition of primary sources in genealogical terms, but that does not eliminate the possibility of a human recording error in either source.
+11 votes
They both could be wrong.

There may be additional clues on the Death certificate (like, the number of years, months, days old - then you can do your own math).

Personally, I tend to believe the certificates over the engravers. But I've gone the other way, on occasion.
by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (540k points)
+7 votes
I agree - if the information differs, they could both be guesses!

I would be guided in part by who the informant on the death certificate is, and how likely that person was to know the correct date.
by Suzanne Doig G2G6 Mach 3 (34.4k points)
+11 votes

Unfortunately, there is no right answer to this question. Generally, a death record is considered to be both a primary and secondary source as it may provide both primary and secondary information. It is secondary, in that was created after the event, and may include secondary information such as birth date, birth location, names of parents, etc..  Primary information could be the death date and location;  but the value of any of the data (be it primary or secondary) is solely dependent on the knowledge of the informant. Was it a distant relative, an attending doctor, or a grieving family member? Same goes for a tombstone. When was the tombstone placed and who provided the information for the tombstone? When there is a discrepancy between the two sources, it is best to try to find more evidence to consider, such as obituaries or wills. Like I said earlier…no right answer to this question.

by Cheryl Cantrell G2G3 (3.3k points)
I've also seen deaths certificates sourced from hospital records or a roommate.
+6 votes
A few times i have seen all wrong.Especially when tombstone looks too

new for its age,info provide much later.Census records are fine,but sometimes names are spelled wrong.If before 1900 few could read write or spell.So census taker had too guess.
by Wayne Morgan G2G6 Pilot (922k points)

Yeah, I've seen that, too. The tombstone looks brand new and the person died a hundred years ago. Also for some reason, some of the info entered into FAG contradicts what is written on the tombstone image right in front of our faces. My ancestor's FAG: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18081159

Her middle name is given as 'Ruth', a name for which no contemporary evidence exists and which is not on the tombstone. Also her death date is entered as Jan 16 1891 but a quick glance of her (very old, broken, weathered) tombstone shows she died in March 1891. I pointed all this out on her Wikitree page so well-meaning folks don't go fiddling with her page to make it match FAG.

I see the tombstone has been chalked as well. Disappointing.
I've come across something similar looking in the Johnson County Death Records scanned into Family Search.

A great-great-uncle died in late December 1903, like 21st or something like that. The date it was entered into the Death Record book was mid January 1904, and there had already been several deaths recorded before it, with death dates in 1904. His date of death ended up getting recorded as 21 December 1904...

Go forward a few decades: My Mom (and some of her siblings? and other related?? I actually don't know offhand who all did it.) had new tombstones done for several members of the family in that time area. I don't know offhand if there were older ones that were now unreadable, or if there were none placed originally, and they went from the cemetery records. But his death date on the new stone is 1904... (I thought I had entered him in... guess not. I'll have to enter him in when I get home from work...)

+6 votes
Use both, of course, but I'd give precedence to the certificate simply because it's an offence to give false information for that. Stone masons don't care.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (294k points)
I actually suspect that, in some cases, family members just pulled a date out of thin air or made a guesstimate. I have definitely seen cases where, for example, "Jane" is 5 years old on the 1860 census, but her tombstone claims she was born in 1865. Clearly, "Jane" shaved a few years off her age at some point and her descendants went along with it.

For what it's worth, I tend to trust the ages estimated for very young children rather than for adults. A census-taker is less likely to confuse a five-year-old for an eleven-year-old than a 25-year-old adult for a 30-year-old adult.

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