What do you do when birth and or death dates aren't listed?

+5 votes
I found some family tree information on familysearch, ancestry, and myheritage. To name a few sites. With.possibilities of blowing a whole through a few brick walls. I am reluctant to add them because either birth or death dates aren't provided. I understand that in general Hawaiian birth records. Like Native American, or the majority of Polynesian birth records. Are at times approximate at best. Before the arrival of European, and American colonists and missionaries.  So I'm just curious to know how some of you better educated than I genealogists would approach birth and death dates for people that didn't have written records prior to the 1800's?

Sometimes when I see birth dates even for Notables like King Kamehameha, or King Kaumualii. I wonder who figured them out. I am positive that the Hawaiians did not use the Gregorian calendar. Ok, I admit to a bit of tomfoolery in the last sentence.

Random fact: It has been said that Hawaiians used to chant their genealogists to each other.

I'm looking just for some guidance. If your guidance has silly commentary, I am cool with that. This date thing has probably been making me angrier than it should. I am sure I am over thinking it way too much. Thank you in advance.
in The Tree House by Paul Kreutz G2G6 Mach 3 (37.6k points)
edited by Paul Kreutz
I would also think that an oral history recorded or transcribed by a credible person (historian, family member, etc., not Gustave Anjou) would be a legitimate source, especially for people whose cultures didn't typically include written history. I think the kind of recited genealogy you're referring to would be excellent sources. You may find conflicting dates in them, just like we do in paper records.
If I can get a hold of one of my Aunties. I think she has it wrote down somewhere. She is my grandmother's sister. She is around 92yrs old.  She also is fluent in Hawaiian, unlike me. She used to send me photocopies of pictures, and need articles of various family members.

4 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer
If you are going to estimate dates for someone you have to have a reference point that is a known date.

If you have a dated document where someone states his age, simple subtraction gives an estimate of the birthdate, but you need to keep in mind that the person’s statement could be not correct for a variety of reasons. Thus the birth date is an estimate, so a qualifier such as “est” or “abt” could be used.

If you know, for example men married at age 20-25 and women’s at 15-20, and you have a marriage date, by subtraction you could estimate a 5 yr range for their respective births. If it is a second or third marriage, the logic fails.

If somebody signed a will on a certain date, you know they died after that date.

Once the British discovered Hawaii in 1778 a reference point was established. If a Hawaiian ruler stated his age, or his age was estimated by someone and recorded, then his birth can be estimated, again subjected to the uncertainties of a stated age.

If a culture used a calendar, and recorded events relative to that calendar, and there is a correlation with the Gregorian calendar, then you have your reference points.

Going back, the length of a generation can be estimated, and approximate dates for someone can be estimated. But, these are more uncertain. The further back you go, the more uncertain the estimates become.

You need a little appreciation for biology: men can father children at older ages than women can bear them. A 70 year old man can be a father, but a 70 year old woman is well past her childbearing years.

If you can say someone lived at the time of a known historical event, you can place the person in time, but birth/death estimates become somewhat meaningless.

You need to know something about the culture and the history of the area they lived in.

In short, there are ways, but not everyone agrees on the result. There is nothing wrong with an estimate if you can state the reason why you made that estimate.
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (322k points)
selected by Susan Smith
+5 votes
Paul - if there are no "documented" dates, as there aren't for many profiles, you can add the heading ===Research Notes=== in the biography and perhaps offer a range of years for DOB or DOD, as well as an explanation of the roadblocks encountered.  

Hope this helps.

by Karen Hoy G2G6 Mach 3 (35.8k points)
+5 votes

You're not over thinking this at all.   If the Hawaiian culture doesn't provide the documentation that other cultures provide, you'll have to document more thoroughly than most.   Just put EVERYTHING you feel is reliable under  "Research Notes"..... and place the most reliable dates as "Uncertain" in the profile.  Hopefully, you'll be able to compare the  "chants" and other ancestors conclusions in the future.  WikiTree is set up to make changes as more reliable information comes forward.

My family handed down Civil War era stories.... they have some credibility as "stories" but will never be documented as facts.
by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (361k points)
My entire life, I have been told stories of being related to King Kaumualii, as well as Kalaniopuu. I'm trying to connect the dots. As well as smash through brick walls. A lot of my American, and European ancestors that ended in Hawaii. Married in to royal families. Now I'm just rambling on my keyboard.
+3 votes
Thank you all for the pointers.
by Paul Kreutz G2G6 Mach 3 (37.6k points)

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