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Conflict Resolution in Genealogy


brass scales of justice

Everyone has faced the dilemma of conflicting dates with their family trees, whether they be birth dates, marriage dates, or dates of death. What to do when you have conflicting info in the tree you are researching?


To begin, you must consider the source of the information. This subject is addressed very thoroughly in the Family Locket Research Like a Pro Course, by the way. Sources can be primary, secondary or tertiary.


A primary source would be a document created by the subject or a witness to an event directly, such as a military draft registration, a diary, letter or photo. A secondary source is a document created some time after the event like a book, newspaper article, or a commentary by a third party. A tertiary source would be a document compiled from both primary and secondary sources like Wikipedia, gazetteers, etc.


Review your source and then double check with other sources, because people sometimes lie when filling out documents. I can hear you gasping in shock all the way over here. Why would someone lie about an event?

man in library reading book next to card catalog

There are several conflicting sources about the birthplace and date of my great-grandfather James Harrison Jennings. Was it Ireland or Vermont? Both answers are given on different censuses.


JHJ indicates in the 1860 Census for Monroe County, NY that he is 17 years old, born in Ireland in 1843. He is farm laborer on a farm close to his father's. In the 1865 NY State Census he is enumerated with his parents and it indicates he is 21 (1844), born in Ireland. He has not been found in the 1870 Census yet.

photo of a gentleman from 1860's

In 1880, he is married with a family in PA, and is a butcher. This census says he is 34 (1846) and gives a birthplace of Vermont. Vermont?


In the mid-nineteenth century there was a lot of anti-

immigrant sentiment, and the employment ads were famously filled with "No Irish Need Apply" and later "No Italians Need Apply." People lied about where they were from, or misunderstood the census taker's question about origin and referred to the STATE they had just moved from instead.

So, perhaps, as James appears to be a successful businessman, he is disavowing any Irish roots? Where did this Vermont citation come from?


Our primary sources are inconclusive, so we need to start checking secondary sources, such as this one: Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in “The Boston Pilot 1831–1920" found on Ancestry. This was published in October of 1850. James Harrison Jennings was the son of a James Jennings, the inquiry is looking for a "James Jennings" in Vermont, so this is promising. No record has been found of immigration to Canada.

Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisement Placed in “The Boston Pilot 1831–1920"

Looking back at the censuses for James Sr., we see that he lists his oldest children as being born in Ireland. Two sons were born in Vermont in 1854 and 1858 according to their own later census responses, and the last of the brood were born in NY.


James Harrison Jennings married twice and had 13 children. The conflict of his birth date and location is never completely satisfied with primary or secondary sources. His death certificate lists his birth in 1848 in Vermont.

The informant (a secondary source as to his birth) was the second wife born in 1858, so he may have lied to her to make himself appear younger, but by 1908 the story had solidified to match the "Missing Friends" posting.


death certificate J H Jennings 1908

Most of his children proudly declared that he was born in "The Irish Free State" in censuses after the establishment of the Republic of Ireland.


What else do people lie about and why? Some of the most common reasons include young men swearing they were old enough to serve in the military especially in WWII.


Couples lie about wedding dates to hide the fact that a child had already been conceived. This used to be a bigger deal in the last century than the current, and people were eager to disguise this kind of info.


When you have a conflict, do your research and make your conclusion based on your best judgement of all of the evidence gathered. Go back and check for more evidence periodically, if you have that luxury of time. Every once in a while I go back and check for new hints, I google his name, and check the immediate family for new stories. Still hoping for a good DNA match that will take me back further!


Have you ever been asked if your family tree was "finished?" Clearly this was from a person who had no concept of the addiction problem I have and that many of you share! I don't think I will ever be "finished." There is always something new to discover about your family history.


MyHeritage is making all UK records available for free today through May 8th in celebration of the coronation of King Charles III. I am looking forward to watching this historical event, are you?


Mother's Day in the US approaches, and DNA kits are on sale again for another week or so! Ancestry for $49 (save up to $50), MyHeritage for $39 (save $50), FamilyTreeDNA for $59 (save up $20 on their Family Finder product), 23andMe offering up to 25% their packages (currently $99 - $178). For help in picking a family tree researching site, you can refer back to my earlier blog post about the different sites and who will take other sites DNA tests, etc. by clicking here.


If you have any questions about this post or your own tree and research please send me an email at the link below. Always a free initial consultation.


Best regards,

Leslie Ryan


No compensation is received for any of the links or references included here.

No copyright infringement is intended.



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