I have learned it is so important to be open minded in your research. How many times do I talk to someone who says, “this is the year when my great grandmother was born; but, it does not match what I am finding on the census.” I am quick to tell them this could still be her grandmother; the census could be off as much as five years.
I have a 2nd great grandmother I have looked up on the census. Depending on the census year, three different states are listed and couple different years. She was actually born in AL, married in FL, had her kids in GA, and died in MS. The different census’ listed her as born in AL, MS and FL. She was born December 2, 1847 and she has dates of 1848, 1850, etc. listed. Her name is Mary Fralick, but she is also listed as Mary, Mollie and M. A. Fralick.
Most researchers would note that even with the differences this is the same Mary Fralick. There are other clues to use such as spouse and children. But, I am surprised at researchers who will dismiss an ancestor if the data does not exactly match what they have on their records. We need to be open minded and realize that the same person may have conflicting information, but that it can still be their ancestor. Make note of the differences between census or information gathered, but don’t just ignore it. It may be the one clue you needed to find further family data.
This can be especially true when you are researching indexes for census, certificates and documents. If the writing is hard to read, the transcriber will index to the best of his/her ability what he is reading. In earlier years of writing, the T’s and S’s and F’s (capitalized) look very similar. I was working on a family whose last name was Wash. After endless hours of research, I went to the census and added just a first name. There was the father, mother and children all together, dates matching mine, but their last name was indexed as Nash as the “W” in Wash looked like an “N” to the transcriber. Now to the closed minded person, this family would have been ignored, but as I have tried to be more open minded in my research, I found the family I was searching for.
This would also apply to spellings of names. There are many reasons for names changes; some being lack of education, coming to a new land and wanting an “American” name, post slavery, and family feud resulting in a variation of a name to differentiate themselves. Don’t overlook someone if the names do not match exactly what you have in your notes. I have heard some names have as many as ten variations of spellings so be open minded on names especially. This can apply to first names as well as surnames.
As a last note of caution, some researchers will actually change correct data if they do not like it. For example, in the 1790’s a man married a woman close to his age and she died. This man then married a woman who was much younger than he; in fact, he had daughters older than she was. His descendants did not like this age difference and felt it made the family name look disgraced, so they changed the age of the male ancestor to be closer to the age of his second wife. So, unless you had a personal knowledge of this fact, you would not know the date was wrong when researching their submitted genealogies. You might find another submission with the correct information; so be open minded. Discovering this man had children with his first wife, you would soon realize his age could not possibly be correct!
Differences in submitted data during your research can be quite frustrating. You have to be open minded in analyzing the documented sources your are researching. Write down all the possibilities and hope that within those notes will be the answer to finding that long lost ancestor you have been trying to discover.