Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Man with 7 (Possibly 8) Birthdays

In this post I'll be discussing discrepancies in records. Specifically birth year/date discrepancies.
Sometimes they're easy to resolve if you have only one or two documents with the wrong year and the vital records to back up the actual DOB.
Sometimes, like in my 2nd great-grandfather William H Driscoll's case, it's nearly impossible to resolve since nearly every single record shows a different birth year/date. Only 2 records, the 1910 and 1920 censuses, have the same birth year for him. William is also hard to pin down because I don't know for sure his mother's name and therefore don't know for sure if I have his birth record or not. I'll discuss this issue more later.

On to William's many different birth years. They are:
  1. 1868 (Marriage record)
  2. 1869 (1940 census)
  3. 25 Nov 1870 (Naturalization record)
  4. Mar 1871 (1900 census)
  5. 1871 (1910 and 1920 censuses)
  6. 1874 (1930 census)
  7. 19 Mar 1878 (Death record)
1940 census for William H Driscoll,
 listing his age as 71
(Click to enlarge)
William H Driscoll and Mary J Ennis
Marriage Record
listing William's age as 22 in 1890
(Click to enlarge).
Naturalization record for William
H Driscoll, listing his birth date as
25 Nov 1870
(Click to enlarge)
1900 census for William H Driscoll,
listing his birth date as Mar 1871
(Click to enlarge)

1910 census for William H Driscoll,
listing his age as 39
(Click to enlarge)
1920 census for William H Driscoll,
listing his age as 49
(Click to enlarge)

1930 census for William H Driscoll,
listing his age as 56
(Click to enlarge)
Death record for William H Driscoll,
listing his age as 71 years, 10 months,
27 days
(Click to enlarge)

William's birth year on census records varies between 1869 and 1874. The problem with censuses is that you don't know if the person who gave the information knew what they were talking about. There are often mistakes on censuses because the person supplying the information was incorrect, or the person taking the information misheard or made a mistake filling out the form. So I don't rely on censuses to pin down my ancestors' birth years. They can give you an idea, but you're better off sticking with your vital (Birth, marriage, death) records.

As far as William's vital records go, there is a 10 year gap. Not good. His marriage record from 1890 says he's 22 years old, putting his birth in 1868. His death record from 1950 says he is 71 years, 10 months, 27 days old, making his birth date 19 Mar 1878 (If I've done my math correctly, which is unlikely). I can pretty much throw this date out right away because he would have to have been 12 years old when he got married. So in this case vital records are not reliable.

The naturalization record has an exact birth date. I suppose it's close enough to most of the other records to seriously be considered. But I'm iffy on adding this as his real, true, actual birthday without a birth record. Without a lot of experience with naturalization records, I'm not sure how reliable they are. Someone might tell me they're pretty darn credible, in which case my mystery could very well be solved. But they might not be, so I'm keeping it squarely in the 'maybe' column.

Still with me? Whew. I've been studying this for years and I still get confused sometimes.

You may notice that the title of this post is The Man with 7 (Possibly 8) Birthdays and I've only listed 7. Here is the possible 8th:

Possible birth record for
William H Driscoll, listing
his birth date as 27 Aug 1870
(Click to enlarge)
Why is this a possible birth record? Because I don't know if this is actually his birth record. Why not? Because I don't know if Ellen Collins is his mother. My next blog post, which I posted before the re-tooling and will re-post, will explain all of that.
The birth year is 1870 which is close enough to the other records to be considered, if this is in fact my William.
There's also the issue of his birth place, which on his naturalization record is listed as County Clare, Ireland. However my Grampy has always told me that we are from Schull, County Cork and seemed to know his stuff. The William from this birth record was born in County Cork, which fits with what I know from my family history. 

So I don't know William's birthday. I might not ever know for sure. It's a bummer. The researcher in me wants a concrete date and to know for sure that my information is correct. The great-great-granddaughter in me really wants to know when to say a little "Happy Birthday" to my 2nd great-grandfather. 


  1. You have quite a project! Usually it's the women who alter their age ;) You certainly aren't alone, though. I have lots of people like this, too, especially ones born in a different country.

  2. Yup, my guy was born in Ireland and the records are almost impossible to get my hands on. My Irish people give me the most grief.