Conflicting birth dates in "official records" - How to avoid more error reports?

+7 votes
Jennie (Perry) McLaughlin: Jennie's birth date does not match on her birth and death records.  The birth record date is 24 March 1878 and the death record is 22 February 1878.  She also gives her birth month on the 1900 US Census as February.  At the time of her birth, the record is in a ledger form and gives minimal information so lots of room for error. I'm inclined to believe the death record date is correct based on the 1900 Census, but is that enough to make the change?

This came up on an error report as I had used the birth date on her profile and Findagrave had used the birth date from the death record.
WikiTree profile: Jennie McLaughlin
in WikiTree Help by Jill Perry G2G6 Mach 4 (45.3k points)
If you can see the whole page of the birth ledger, were the births recorded in order?   I found an error on a death ledger where it was obvious the date was wrong because the person that died right before and right after my person had the same month, but someone put the wrong month on my person when they recorded it and it was transcribed that way.
And the birth record date might actually be a christening or baptism date...

5 Answers

+11 votes
Best answer
I would tend to believe the birth date from a birth record, over a birth date from a death record. Census records are often estimates and not accurate either.

The birth information on a death record is most likely provided by the informant, who may know have known the correct date and guessed.

Also, the dates engraved on headstones are often incorrect as well. Again, provided by people who didn't have access to official records, or typos and mistakes by the engraver, and no money to make the corrections.

On the other hand, if dates are far enough off, be careful that you're not actually dealing with different families of the same name and locations.
by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (578k points)
selected by George Fulton
I agree with Dennis about the birth record being a primary source, recorded nearly simultaneously with the event, while later records are only as accurate as the memory of the person who reported the information.

In this case, however, especially because there is also a census record that corroborates the month in the death record, it looks like the timing might be right for the birth record to be recording a baptism date, rather than the birth date.
Gaile is right on! It took some searching to find my aunt even knowing the family story. The doctor switched her name (Hester) with another girl (Ethel) born on the same day in the same county. I also had a great uncle who was killed by a fall from a wagon, and there were lots of newspaper articles when this happened in Jan 1895. Both his death certificate and headstone said 1894.
+10 votes
I am anxious to hear what others say about this.  I have several profiles that have various differences in records.  I try to use  the one that I  think is most likely based on all of the evidence and mark it as uncertain.   Then I put in a research notes section and discuss the differences.   For the error report I would mark the one that permanently hides the error and put a note to See Research Note.  If more definitive information is found later the profile can always be updated.   

If it is a problem with an incorrect transcription on Find A Grave, I contact the manager.

Good luck. Cherry
by Cherry Duve G2G6 Mach 7 (70.2k points)
+9 votes
I tend to agree with you, especially since it’s a birth return not certificate (although I’ve seen those wrong also). You could try to contact the FindAGrave manager to find out where they got the date.

I would certainly make a note about this in her profile.

You could also research children and siblings to see if anyone remembers celebrating Aunt Jennie’s birthday.
by Kay Knight G2G6 Pilot (607k points)
+7 votes
How can she die before she is born?

Your birth date is in March and the death date is in February... both of the same year
by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
I believe 22 February 1878 is not the death date, it is the birth date as recorded on the death record - she seems to have died in 1939 according to her profile.
+5 votes
On the birth record, can you see the date of registration? A relative in my extended family had a deliberately incorrect date of birth registered by her parents because they were late doing it and wanted to avoid the fine. That could be the case here too if a slightly earlier date of birth was consistently used later.
by Suzanne Doig G2G6 Mach 3 (39.2k points)

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