And the risk it poses

Any time a genealogist encounters a set of church records, it’s enough to bring a smile to our faces.

Even a set that doesn’t include any of our own family members.

They’re a treat because they often record things that don’t get recorded by the secular authorities of the time and place — births, for example, long before birth recordation was standard, or burials — and because they often include more information than their secular counterparts.

So The Legal Genealogist had a broad smile last night, poking through the records of the Centre Monthly Meeting — the Quaker records of central Pennsylvania, where I’ll be speaking on May 19 at the Family History Conference of the Centre County Genealogical Society.1

Seriously, how can you not smile to make the acquaintance of the Kirk family of Centre County with their children born in the early years of the 19th century, neatly recorded on a page labeled Births 1814?

Kirk Family

“A Book to Record Births and Buriels In. for Center Monthly meeing (sic) State Pennsylvania,” p.3, lines 1-9; digital images, “Pennsylvania, Centre, Centre Monthly Meeting, Births and Burials 1798-1925,” Ancestry.com.

The children of John and Lydia Kirk:

• Hannah, born May 6, 1804
• Joseph, born January 14, 1806
• Elizabeth, born February 27, 1808
• William, born January 3, 1810
• Thomas, born September 16, 1811
• Lydia, born August 3, 1813
• John Jr., born November 3, 1816
• Maryann, born September 27, 1817
• Sarah F., born November 15, 18192

Or the Underwoods, who lived in Bald Eagle, some years later?

Underwood Family

“A Book to Record Births and Buriels In. for Center Monthly meeing (sic) State Pennsylvania,” p.8, lines 9-14; digital images, “Pennsylvania, Centre, Centre Monthly Meeting, Births and Burials 1798-1925,” Ancestry.com.

The children of Reuben L. and Emeline G. Underwood:

• William A., born April 11, 1870
• Ida J., born January 5, 1869
• Miles W., born June 7, 1871
• Eli G., born June 7, 1873
• Eva T., born May 25, 1875
• Jesse H., born January 24, 18773

Great information, neatly and conveniently packaged by family, with the names of all the children, their birth dates and their parents.

Except for one thing.

And you’ve already spotted it, haven’t you?

It’s the very fact that it is neatly and conveniently packaged by family, with the names of all the children, their birth dates and their parents.

Because record-keepers who are recording events as they occur don’t — and in this case couldn’t — record births in this kind of a neat, convenient, packaged-by-family way.

The way these entries appear, with all the children together by family, with the fact that there’s often not even a line between families, tells us these entries weren’t written when the children were born.

That couldn’t have happened with the Underwoods — with an 1870 birth recorded first and an 1869 birth recorded second.

No matter who kept this record or how it was kept or how the entries were recorded — no matter how carefully this information was entered — this is not a contemporaneous record of these births.

It’s second-hand somehow — either entered all at once sometime down the road, or re-recorded from some other earlier record.

Which means there was a risk that error might have crept in somewhere.

It’s still great information, neatly and conveniently packaged by family.

But the very fact that it’s in that form means we need to stop and think and verify — and make sure that that risk of possible error didn’t materialize in the family we’re researching.


SOURCES

  1. Yes, they can handle some walk-ins, it’s at the Foxdale Village Auditorium in State College, and registration starts at 8:30 a.m.
  2. “A Book to Record Births and Buriels In. for Center Monthly meeing (sic) State Pennsylvania,” p.3, lines 1-9; digital images, “Pennsylvania, Centre, Centre Monthly Meeting, Births and Burials 1798-1925,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 May 2018).
  3. “A Book to Record Births and Buriels In. for Center Monthly meeing (sic) State Pennsylvania,” p.8, lines 9-14; digital images, “Pennsylvania, Centre, Centre Monthly Meeting, Births and Burials 1798-1925,” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 May 2018).
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