The Importance of Dates In Genealogical Work

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By Amanda Forson,

In order to find a person, there are a few essential information bits that are necessary: Name, Date, and Location. When trying to help a user find Texan family members near Houston, there were many possible matches for the supplied surname and first name.

Without a date, there was no way to discover more information or to put the family into the context of the available records.

A fellow staff member at also has had challenges when working with family members from three generations of males who died within a year of each other, who were named similarly. Keeping them straight is only due to birth dates and contextual marriage/descendant relationships.

One of the basics of genealogical research, dates often plague beginners. The further back in time a researcher moves, the more complicated and less-sure dates tend to be. For example, events happening in the early seventeenth century (pre-1753) usually are recorded in modern genealogical record books as 1733/34, or similar markings indicating the transition from Julian to Gregorian calendars.

Different nationalities write dates differently. Americans normally use a month-day-year format whereas Europeans generally use day-month-year. Genealogists typically follow the European conventions for dating their work.

Dates on documents also make a difference in the authenticity of a document or in family stories and legends. If a person was born before the date of the invention of the camera, then a prized family photo of a family member who died before the invention of the camera probably is not matched to the proper relative.

Often a check-up on proper relative fitting, no one’s mother had them when they were five. It is physically impossible, although many family histories tend to purport it without relatives realizing it! Other date situations make for interesting times as in the case of the family member who were enumerated the day before their birthday or within a few months of being born. Hence, an age may look incorrect, but is actually properly placed.

Work hard to prove the proper relationships, and always remember that dates that events occur are contextual clues by themselves.

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