Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Validation: Using Birth Years to Qualify Ancestors in the Census

Women will be obliged to give their correct age in the coming census. The new law says:"Women who refuse to tell their ages or indulge in inaccurate statements thereof, as well as all other persons refusing to reply to questions or making false statements, shall, on conviction be fined one hundred dollars."
Manitowoc Daily Herald, Manitowoc, Wis. Saturday, May 27, 1899 P.21

In general, the censuses asked how old a person was as of his or her last birthday, not the specific year he or she was born (the exception was the 1900 Census, which asked for the month and year of birth). The phrasing of that question has predictably led to a number of errors in birth year listings in census indexes. Add to that human error, or as implied above, human vanity, and you can see why birth year listings vary slightly from census to census.

One of my clients’ great-grandmothers, coincidently from Wis., had a different birth year in every census. She got younger every time, so that by the 1930 Census, she would have been 15 years old at the time of her marriage.

Birth years may be off plus or minus a year or two from census to census and still be the right person. However, if a birth year has changed by more than seven to 10 years since the previous census, even though the name might be the same, it is most likely not the same person.

 Check the names and birth years of the other family members listed. Are they similar to what is listed in previous or future censuses? Reviewing birth years in the census is another key step in validating your family members.
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