Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mary's Misleading Obituary

Printed and online obituaries can be full of wonderful family information. Unfortunately, they often contain errors, also.

Mary Maddox Neff's 1907 obituary is a good example of the types of mistakes that you might see. Taking the information in the obituary as entirely true could lead to bad assumptions and missed records.

Deconstructing the obituary, there were 19 facts.
  • Two were incorrect. 
  • One was unknown. 
  • Five were unknown, but probably true. 
  • One other key fact was missing. 
The overall analysis is 80 percent true and probably true. That's not too bad -- unless you were depending on the 20 percent of information that isn't true.

Always take obituaries as clues, rather than absolute truth.

For anyone researching this family, the analysis and obituary follow.

Fact Content Truth
Marriage Date 1851 * False
Number Children Four ** False
Child Name James ** Unknown
Child Name Christina ** MISSING
Birth County Pickaway County Probable
Burial Acasto, MO Probable
Church Member of Methodist Church Probable
Funeral M.E. Church in Mt Sterling, IA Probable
Spouse Birth 1831 Probable
Birth State Ohio True
Birth Year 1834 True
Child Location Ft Madison, IA (Cantril) True
Child Location Pueblo, CO (Schafer) True
Child Name Absolom True
Child Name Mrs George Schafer True
Child Name Mrs T N Cantril True
Name Mrs Mary Neff True
Spouse George Neff True
Spouse Death October 6, 1897 True
Survivors 2 children and 2 grandchildren True

*The Neff marriage was celebrated in Pickaway County, Ohio, on February 1, 1852. Reference book 4-255.
**The 1900 census showed that Mary had 5 children, 2 of whom were living. James was never on the census, but most likely would have been born between 1860 and 1863. Child Christina was the eldest in the census and was entirely omitted in the obituary in both child count and list of names.

Fort Madison (Iowa) Weekly Democrat, 11 September 1907, Page 2, Column 3

Friday, September 9, 2016

Filtering Mary, Part 3

(Not) Just the Facts

You've selected a type of record, carefully reviewed the indexed content and then set your filters appropriately. But you just cannot find that elusive person. You begin to think they just aren't in the record set.

Are the facts getting in the way? The facts as we perceive them today may not match the information at the time. Maybe there is missing or incorrect information and your filters are hiding the record. Maybe the indexer made a mistake when transcribing the record. Or maybe that elusive person gave an incorrect answer.

Age and date of birth are "facts" that are often inconsistent across the lifetime of those who were born before the age of birth certificates and drivers licenses. It's useful for filtering, but don't depend on it. If you are using a narrow range for a birth year, try increasing the range. It's easier to control the range on Family Search than on Ancestry.

Looking at Mary Maddox Neff, I found that she was very consistent in stating her own age and birth year. Her age was always within a one-year range which can be explained by the date of the census. However, her husband, George M Neff, seems to have taken an anti-aging tonic. He grew two years younger by the end of his life. Their daughter's age was so inconsistent that I'm still not positive whether Elizabeth Ann Neff Shafer had a sister Ann or just changed her name around.

Take a moment to think about that elusive person. Might they have made themselves older to marry, to join the military, to avoid a head tax or to draw a pension? Might they have shaved off some years to avoid the draft, to be younger than a husband or to participate in a program such as Social Security or Medicare?

One of my female ancestors married a man who was ten years younger. Yes indeed, she tried very hard to hide her age!

Do consider opening up the date of birth filter if you're not finding the record you are seeking.