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20 August 2011

One Piece of Paper Isn't Proof

There is more to "proving" a date of birth, a place of marriage, or a maiden name than finding it written on one piece of paper. At the risk of oversimplifying, the researcher should be at the very least be considering:

  • how accurate that "piece of paper" probably is
  • the likely informant of that "piece of paper"
  • what other "pieces of paper" have to say
  • how reasonable the information on that "piece of paper" is
There's more to making a case than this, but these are elements of analysis that should be considered on a regular basis. And if at all possible, try and find other "pieces of paper" that mention the same date, location, or relationship. Ideally those pieces of paper will have different informants-preferably ones who had first hand knowledge of the information. 


  1. Totally agree, even official documents sometimes get it wrong. Example: census records sometimes spell name wrong, person may have lied about their age or marital status. Use that "piece of paper " as a staring point to more research.

  2. Even if the piece of paper would seem to pass those tests, and matches other information, it could still be wrong. An odd example: a friend found out that his aunt was actually his mother, and his father was unknown. However, his "father" had the aunt admitted to the hospital under his "mother's" name, and the birth certificate was made out with "mother's" and "father's" name instead of the aunt and unknown (apparently the "father" had to pay someone to do that). So the birth certificate could have lead to bad genealogical information, had he not been told of this. Wonder how many bad official documents like this have skewed our research? Makes me wonder if we can trust anything.

  3. The whole picture is key to the truth as even interviews with aging relatives can be in err too.

  4. Great tip, my next blog posts (to post Monday) will demonstrate this!