Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, May 3, 2020

How to Analyze Genealogical Sources: Part Five

Analyzing genealogical records and documents boils down to making decisions about the accuracy of the records and documents. One of the most common categorizations of documents makes a distinction between an original document and a copy. This distinction is sometimes referred to as the difference between direct and indirect evidence. The analogy of building a case for trial is unavoidable. Using this definition, finding a document such as a birth certificate gives you some evidence. Here is a copy of a birth certificate to see what we can do to analyze this "evidence."

Before I get into any analysis, here are a few questions I might want to answer before I start making conclusions.
  1. Where did the event occur?
  2. What are the levels of jurisdiction
  3. What was the date of the event?
  4. Who recorded the event?
  5. When was the event recorded?
  6. How was the report preserved?
  7. Is this a copy of the original report?
Let's look at the birth certificate and answer each of these questions. I could have added more questions but this is enough for now. Here are the numbered answers.
  1. Saint Johns, Arizona
  2. Saint Johns, Apache, Arizona, United States. There may be other jurisdictions but these are the obvious ones. 
  3. 13 April 1929
  4. Mrs. Margaret Jarvis. This happens to be my Great-great-grandmother. 
  5. 4 May 1929
  6. State File No. 7, Local Registrar's Number 15, Arizona Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Standard Certificate of Birth
  7. I don't know if this question can be answered. 
Another question, who filled out the form and where did the information come from? The birth occurred on April 13 but the certificate wasn't filed until May 4th. Who provided the information? My note above indicates that the person signing the certificate, Margaret Jarvis, was my Great-great-grandmother. The mother, Eva Overson, was my Grandmother and Margaret Jarvis was her grandmother. Margaret Jarvis indicates that she was present at the birth. Who signed the document as the Registrar? If you look closely, you can see that the name of the Registrar is Martin Jensen and if you look at the handwriting, it is apparent that he was the one who filled out the form. I have looked at other birth certificates from Saint Johns (St. Johns), Arizona and they are also filled out by the Registrar.

Now, let's think about the document. The birth occurred on April 13 and the document was filled out by the Registrar about May 4th. Who provided the information to the Registrar? Can we assume that the information came from Margaret Jarvis? Did Margaret Jarvis fill out the form and sign for the Registrar? Is this an original document or a copy? Is it direct or indirect evidence of the birth?

Would it help if I showed you another copy of the same birth certificate?

Why is there a Supplementary Report of Birth? If you look at the "original" birth certificate, you can see that the name on the certificate was filled in with different handwriting and with a different pen. How reliable is this information? How does the existence of a Supplementary Report of Birth change your opinion about the reliability of the original or first document? When was the supplement made?

Now, who supplied the information about the parents' ages, and place of birth? Is this information correct?

Which of the two documents is more reliable? Does it help that the information is the same in both documents? Perhaps, that raises an issue about the reliability of both of the documents.

What would be your decision about the two documents? What other documents would you like to see? Would a Social Security Death Index document showing the same birthdate help?

Think about this and I will continue writing the next installment.

For the previous parts of this series see the following:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:

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