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Female Ancestors,  Genealogy Research

More Than One Birth Date For An Ancestor? What To Do!

Find more than one birth date for an ancestor? It happens! How to sort out conflicting dates of birth for that ancestor!

You found your ancestor’s date of birth, and you are ready to celebrate!

Then you find a genealogy source that gives a different date of birth.

Maybe you find a third date of birth that’s different still! Uh oh!

It does happen!

What happens when you come across genealogy resources that give you different dates of birth for your ancestors?

That date of birth could be off by just a year or two. It could be off by a larger number of years, and that’s actually going to be good for you as a researcher. (We’ll talk about that more below. )

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Resolving Multiple Dates of Birth

Some resources only give you the birth year. So where are other researchers finding the month and the day. As a family history researcher, it is important that you understand why you are finding these different dates for your ancestors date of birth. Then you will be able to determine exactly what that means for your research.

Consider the Source

The first thing you need to do when you find a date of birth for your ancestor is to consider the source who is providing the information for that ancestor’s date of birth. Did that person creating the document or giving the information have personal knowledge of the family that would be accurate.

For example, the source stating that Sally Smith was born in 1867 is the census record, and the source saying that Sally was born in 1865 is the family Bible.

That family Bible is the more accurate source for her date of birth. A family member would have recorded that event of her birth in 1865 close to the time of her birth. A census taker is more likely to make a mistake when writing down a date of birth for an ancestor. He could have been tired, may have misheard the information, or may have actually gotten the information from the next door neighbor. So, there is definitely a higher chance of a mistake happening from a census taker who may not know the family as well.

Often genealogy researchers find dates of birth within ancestors’ death records. Usually, just a birth year or possibly an age for younger children is provided. In this case, a little bit of math will allow you to come up with an approximate birth year. As researchers, we need to take into account who was writing that document. Again, is it reasonable that person had a good working knowledge of the family? Or were they getting it second or third hand?

(Are you seeing a theme here?)

Look at the dates. Is one just a birth year and the other date  a year, month and even the day?

When I am searching for an ancestor’s birth year, and I come across a full birthdate, I take notice. It might be in another person’s tree or in a published family history. I don’t take it as fact without going further into it. When a full date is given, I have to wonder where did they find it. It was likely written somewhere, so it’s up to me as a researcher to find the source if the information is not cited.  

(Ahem, let’s make sure we are citing our sources!)

For example, if I find an ancestor that one source says was born in 1866 and another source says March 11, 1864, I cannot think that specific date is random. I would use it as a starting point. I would seek out a family Bible since these usually had full dates in them. I would also seek out military records and gravestones which often have full dates. 

Look at the date spread

How different is it?  

Is the difference you are finding in birth dates or years of birth off by just a couple of years?  Or is it 10 years? If you are finding a wide range of years between the birth years, consider if you are looking at records from two different people with the same name.  It’s possible to confuse two individuals who might be related and have the same name.  Creating a timeline for is especially helpful in this case.

Don’t let more than one birth date for an ancestor throw your research off. The strategies above will help you sort out it all out. Learn more about birth dates in this video:

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One Comment

  • David Anderson

    This is a fantastic, common sense article! However, it’s not exactly what I was looking for; and I’m looking for a how-to on Ancestry.com, specifically. (And if you’re not an Ancestry.com expert, that’s fine.)

    Let’s presume I have absolutely no idea whether source A or source B is correct, one having DOB 1875 and 1877. I’d like to enter *both* dates, at least until am able to figure them out. What is the procedure for entering both? It is certainly not obvious.

    Thank you!

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