She was either born in 1899 or 1900, and I know which one.
This last year, I have been struggling with the idea of proof. That was one of my impetuses for starting a 52 Ancestors blog-project, “starting” being the operative word. Most of my life I have been recording and collecting ancestors. But the truth is, I know my collecting has mixed all types of things together—some right and some wrong. Today, for the first time, I have documented my use of The Genealogical Proof Standard, and it feels good. You see, the birth-year of my great aunt, Mary Hypatia Link, is wrong in her obituary, and probably on her headstone, too. She was born in 1899, not 1900. And now I can prove it.
Last weekend, I had dinner with a cousin, and as is often the case, we talked about family: our memories of different people, and of stories that we grew up knowing. Neither of us was clear about how a certain individual was related to us—or rather, I should say that we were both clear, and we didn’t agree. It came down to a question of generations, and I thought she was missing one. It wasn’t a big thing and caused no problems. Both of us tend to conflate stories, and we both grew up in families where stories were told to make points, and if that meant some of the details needed to be adjusted, they got adjusted.
Last night, sitting in front of the computer, I looked into the question only to discover that we were both wrong. Which isn’t too unusual for us. After that, I went to bed, and this morning, I noticed that there were still several tabs open on my browser that I hadn’t looked at. I soon found myself reading the Palestine, Texas, High School Memorial Page. I had never come across a high school memorial page, and I enjoyed it!
Anyway, Mary Hypatia Link, a great aunt of mine, was in the class of 1917. She died in 1985, and a transcript of her funeral announcement was given with a reference to the Palestine Herald-Press where it was run on 22 Oct 1985. But something was a little off. Aunt Hi was 5 years older than her brother, my grandfather, Henry Hillary Link. I “knew” he was born in 1904, and that she had been born in 1899. But here she was listed as having been born 26 September 1900. [If you are tired of my wordy style, and don’t want to trudge through the rest, feel free to skip down to the clincher in the next-to-last paragraph.]
My family tree book lives next to the computer. I pulled it out and there she was, in the handwriting of a much younger me, as having been born in 1899. I must have been in my early teens when I got that book, and I remembered having filled out this portion with the help of my grandfather, sitting at the round marble-top table. Certainly he knew what year his sister was born… or did he? After all, the paper would have been given the year by someone else in the family, and wouldn’t they know?
[We won’t mention that I have to count on my fingers and do all sorts of other mental gymnastics when trying to figure out when someone was born or died, or how old they might be; my grandfather wasn’t like that. He came up with names and dates in a snap. Not only did I remember this, but I remembered my mother telling the story of his filling out her wedding book—that without pause or hesitation he filled in the names, birth and death dates, and even marriage dates for his family. She had been impressed by this at the time.]
Luckily, I collect pictures of family gravestones, so I thought I would look at hers. Unfortunately, the picture isn’t on my computer. I remember taking pictures of the Palestine family graves when Aunt Hi’s sister, Aunt Lib (Elizabeth Manning Link) died in 2001. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too good at backing up my images back then, and lost my entire digital photo collection in 2003. I checked Find A Grave, where she is listed, but alas, there isn’t a picture of her gravestone on the page. It does, however, give her birthday as 26 September 1900, in agreement with her obituary. [Now whether or not that is a mistranscription, I don’t know right now, but I bet a nickle to a doughnut that the headstone says what what Find a Grave claims. Some day soon, I want to take a day trip to Palestine and come home with lots of photographs and memories.
Next I pulled out my copy of The Link Family: Antecedents and Descendants of John Jacob Link, 1417 — 1951, by Paxson Link. It lists Mary Hypatia’s birthdate just as my grandfather remembered it, 1899. But who is to say it is right? Much of the information in it was sent in by people who filled out surveys and included their $5 (or however much) for a copy of the book that would be forthcoming.
Are you starting to see what I mean about proof? Who or what can you trust? How authoritative is a date on a gravestone or printed in a treasured book or “remembered” by someone who was born five years after the fact? What about something on the web?
Anyway, while it does have a some errors, paints a not-always supported positive view of most of the people covered, and missed one whole branch of the family, I still love the Link Book. I don’t actually have a copy of that book, but I do have the next best thing, a reprint. You see, after my grandmother’s death, I realized that her one copy of the book couldn’t be divided seven ways so each of her grandchildren could have their own copy. Over the years, I had searched for the Link Book in antiquarian bookstores and places that specialized in genealogical works, but had never found a copy for sale. I also searched on-line from time to time with no positive results. Then, one day I came across a publisher that was printing on-demand reprints of it. My grandmother’s copy of the book went to her oldest daughter, and I ordered reprints for my mother, sister, and self.
[If you want to order a (reprint) copy of the Link Book, the Higginson Book Company in Salem Massachusetts, reprints lots of genealogy books, and has a sale through the end of March: orders totaling $75 or more will get a 30% discount if you apply coupon PD30 at checkout. Coupons expire midnight March 31, 2015. I don’t remember the books being so expensive, but… .]
None of the things I have talked about so far, of course, are primary sources, not even the headstone. My grandfather’s recollection isn’t either, since he was born after the fact he was “remembering.” Come to think of it, I don’t think Aunt Hi’s own recollection would have provided primary evidence — after all, she wouldn’t have remembered the event nor been able to testify to the day on which it occurred.
And sometimes, you just can’t tell. For example, her US Passport gives her birth year as 1899, but where did they get the information? A border crossing form for the S. S. “Montrose” sailing out of Liverpool and arriving in Quebec also gives that birth year. But probably, the immigration form was filled in from the passport.
Her Social Security card also gives 1899, but we don’t know what identification was used in issuing it. In any case, 1936 was the earliest she could have been given a social security number, so her passport, issued in 1927 predates it.
I won’t bother you with the various documents I could and couldn’t get, and what they said and how I weighted or interpreted them, but I did find both birthdates among the documents. And these were documents I had accumulated and connected to her over the years. But I had never sat down with all of them and focused on one specific fact to understand what conclusion the evidence demanded.
For example, I did not realize that the 1900 US Census actually gives the month and year when someone was born. I thought all of the censuses just gave age from which year of birth was estimated. I’d looked at the various documents I had collected to go along with the kin I had collected, but I hadn’t really looked at them.
Sol Goldberg enumerated the census for my great grandfather’s household on the 9th of June. Aunt Hi is living at the house so we don’t have to estimate the year! She was born in “Sept 1899” and had an age of “8/12” where the age was given in months for individuals born in the year before the census was taken. Had she been born in 1900 rather than 1899, the census would have been taken several months before her birth.
I know that there are different customs for counting. In music, for example, A to C is a third. The count includes the first note A, the intermediate note B, and the final note C. In Russian, Spanish, German, or English, this is the way to count musical intervals. Things get a little more confusing when it comes to time. If I’m going to meet you in three days, and today is Tuesday, are we going to meet on Thursday, or on Friday? Well, it depends on what language we are speaking and where we live, which leaves room for confusion. But it appears that Sol, or whoever he interviewed had an interesting way of counting, because when I try to count from September to June, I don’t get 8 months. Hurrumph.
Bryan, a.k.a., Zim