Analyzing an Unsourced Image of an Unsourced Manuscript
I’ve referred briefly to one of my great-great-grandfathers before in NGS Monthly: Addison Harris Day of Toomsboro, Wilkinson County, Georgia. I was writing about ways to hear our ancestors’ voices and included an 1889 letter to the editor he wrote. This time I want to revisit Addison and examine a record I’ve come across about him and his siblings, two electronic images of photocopies of a manuscript. It’s mysterious; equal parts tantalizing and maddening.
Take a look at the two images below. What do you think? How would you assess this record?
(click on the images to enlarge)
The first thing to consider is the source of these particular images. Several people on Ancestry and a few others online elsewhere have the same images attached to their family trees. I messaged the Ancestry user from whom I downloaded the images to ask about their source and his knowledge of the record, but have never gotten a response. When I’ve messaged others about the source of their particular image, they either don’t know, or they don’t respond. (Since I don’t mean to point fingers or embarrass anyone, I won’t cite my particular source here.)Only NGS members have access to full articles of NGS Monthly. Please log in or click here to learn more about joining the National Genealogical Society.
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Great piece of analysis, Aaron. I believe you have confirmed that the record has a claim to authenticity.
Aaron, I enjoyed the detailed analysis of the document and plan to use your techniques in the future. I do have a question though about the 1850 census. My understanding is that, regardless of the recorded enumeration date (29 October in this case), all people and ages in the household are to be recorded as of June 1, 1849 to May 31, 1850. If true, then a child born in October 1850 shouldn’t be recorded in that census. Thank you again for an excellent article.
Thanks for writing, Dave. You bring up an excellent point about the 1850 census and the enumerators’ instructions. I will challenge, however, your understanding of the date range (June 1, 1849 to May 31, 1850) for which ages were to be recorded. The effective date of any census can’t be a one-year range as everyone would have two ages over the course of that year. Which would be recorded? One’s age in June 1849 or one’s age in May 1850?
I consulted the United States Census Bureau’s website for enumerators’ instructions for each census year (https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/census_instructions/). Those for 1850 were taken from the Thirty-First Congress, Session I, Chapter 11, Act of 23 May 1850, pages 428–436. Section 19 of that act (p. 432) begins as follows: “And be it further enacted, That the Secretary of the Interior is hereby required to carry into effect the provisions of this act, and to provide blanks and distribute the same among the marshals, so that the enumeration may commence on the first day of June next , and be taken with reference to that day in each and every district and subdivision of districts. . . .” So the data should have been recorded for everyone as of 1 June 1850.
In practice, however, some enumerators’ instructions were followed and some were not, varying according to the individual enumerator. A really thorough study might examine all of this particular enumerator’s work to determine if he recorded data as of 1 June 1850 or as of the date he made each individual enumeration (if that could be firmly determined). But that would probably lead to a level of scrutiny that misses your ultimate point.
I should have considered the enumerator’s instructions, even if I think he may not have followed them. And in the end, we’ll probably never know. Because of that, I’ve been thinking about how I should phrase the simple statement of Addison’s birth date in my compiled genealogy. Perhaps the best way to phrase it is this: “Addison Harris Day was born 6 October 1850 (inserting a footnote here with the sources that support that date) or 1849 (inserting a footnote here to cite the 1850 census and any other record that supports that date).” If I have sources in conflict, it’s probably wisest not to make a final determination just because I’d like to.