Sunday, October 24, 2010

Church Record or Civil Record - Which Date to Use?

I remember that when I was a child or youth there seemed some uncertainty about the year in which my grandfather, William Carl Robert Meinzen, was born. I don't know why there was uncertainty or how the two dates came to be up for discussion.

There was never a discussion about the day and month. That was always February 8. It was the year that was in question: either 1891 or 1892. Grampa claimed his birth year as 1892.

About two years ago I obtained a box of papers from Gramma and Grampa's estate. Among them were two different birth records for Grampa. One was a typed, certified copy of his birth record from Jefferson County, Ohio, dated October 23, 1958. It gave his birth date as February 8, 1892 and indicated that the original record had been made on July 8, 1892. The second record was a typed baptismal certificate from Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church (Zion Lutheran). It stated Grampa's baptismal date as September 15, 1896, and his birth date as February 8, 1891. The church record, also a transcription, was dated September 30, 1958.

It wasn't a question I had been pondering or searching to find the answer to it. There is no question in my mind that my grandfather lived and died between one of those dates and 1979. And there certainly isn't a confusion between him and other men with his name as is the case with some of my older ancestors. Still, it would be good to be accurate....

A year or so ago I was trying to find some of my grandfather's siblings who didn't appear in county birth records. I contacted the church that used to be Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church (which had become Zion Methodist Church some years back) to ask if they had early records from the late 1800s. "Yes, but they are in German," I was told. I gratefully accepted the help of the church historian who searched through the old records for some of the children I was seeking. She sent me photocopies of the records. I hadn't been searching from Grampa's record but there it was among the others -- in German (shown below).

I don't know which, the civil or the church record, is accurate. I understand that during the early years of civil birth registration there was no mandatory time period by which parents had to register their children; parents registered the births whenever they happened to be in the city that was the county seat, whether it was the next week or a year later. I don't know the situation for recording the births of children at churches. If people attended church on a regular basis perhaps the registration would have happened a week or so after the child was born. In general, I think the longer the time between the actual event and the recording of it could make a difference in the accuracy of the record.

So which do you think is more reliable: a church record or a civil record? When the dates are different, how do you choose which date to write on your family group sheet or pedigree chart?

1 comment:

  1. I'd go with whichever document was recorded earlier - the one closest to the actual birth.


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