Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Lesson Learned: Dates and why we should carefully cite those

Diaries of William Lanning Tucker (1839 - 1929)

I received another notice this weekend from FamilySearch.org that a date had been changed on my G-G-Grandfather William Lanning Tucker. Sigh.

With my Tucker family draft monograph in hand, I went to my FamilySearch Family Tree to see what exactly had been changed.  Another researcher in this family line had changed his birth year from 1839 to 1840. My monograph had his birth date as 19 September 1839. But where exactly did I get that? I have a number of citations, including his granddaughter’s “Black Diaries” and “Information taken from 1830 family bible pages,” but that was more of a general citation for William’s parents, Ezra and Caroline (Lanning) Tucker. I did not have a citation attached to William’s birth date per se.

We have been told that a citation should accompany every date. What a pain! But excellent advice since it saves time later when verifying where the date came from.

So last night I spent time going back through what my Great Grandmother, Jessie (Tucker) Agard had written from the Tucker Family Bible, where she had noted her father’s birth date as 19 September 1839 and then just to make sure I retrieved William Lanning Tucker’s diaries from the archival box.

William Lanning Tucker kept diaries from 1919 through his death in 1929. I picked three years and went to 19 September. On that date for each of the three years I randomly chose, he wrote that it was his birthday and how old he was. That brought the year of his birth back to 1839.

The confusing issue is the 1900 census that states the day and year of birth is clearly 1840.  I changed the date back to 1839 on FamilySearch, stated my sources and also wrote in that the U.S. Census for 1900 states the year 1840.

Is one year’s difference really that important? To me, no, not for that family tree. My monograph will have what I believe is his correct date of birth, and in the footnote I have already mentioned the census discrepancy.

Unfortunately, this is the same family line that was mistakenly merged with New Hampshire people. Hopefully that won’t happen again, but now I know how to reverse the information back.

This time was not wasted. It is good to have someone challenge your information. It makes you go back and double check where your information came from. In the midst of the thrill of the hunt, you (or I particularly) can make mistakes. Typos happen as you sleep, and even when you are awake. This situation also prompted me to pull out William’s diaries again. They are small books, and he doesn’t have much relevant genealogy information, but I realize I need to scan through them all for the hidden gems or births and deaths and other family activities.


  1. When there's a discrepancy between a so-called official record and a family diary, which do you believe? I lean toward the diary, as it seems you do, because it was written by the person himself. And of course your reminder to cite sources can help others evaluate what they see on the tree.

  2. Marian: That is the road I chose. I figured William should know his birth year - though that isn't always the case. When doing genealogy research we have to be flexible and just cite our sources. That's the best we can do. We have to evaluate which source is the one we wish to use.