Last time we examined the obituary, death certificate, and birth record for Martha Meeker. Her obituary and death certificate both provided her parents’ names as Mahlon Meeker and Mary Baughman. However, further searches could not locate that couple. After accessing her birth record, we discovered her parents were actually Lafayette Meeker and Phylinda Baughman.
So, who is at fault for this error that sent me down the wrong research path for quite some time back in 2001 when I worked this project? Look no further than the informant on the death certificate:
Who was Gerald Dimick? He was Martha’s third child. He was only two months old when his grandfather Lafayette Meeker died. AND his grandmother Phylinda Baughman died 22 years before he was born! Did Gerald have good first-hand knowledge of who his mother’s parents were? No. He only had second-hand information. He was dependent on what he had heard as a child growing up. Not to mention the stress a family is under when a loved one dies and a funeral has to be arranged. That can mess with anyone’s memory.
This is why corroboration is key to genealogical research. You can’t just get one document, one vital record (and in this case two) and call it a day. Genealogists should strive to find a record that is A) independently created and B) as close to the time of the event that it is reporting as possible. Obituaries and death certificates often have the same informant (though not always, there are times and reasons why this is not the case). And a death certificate is not a record close in time to find birth information. Always strive to find one closer in time.
When using newspapers, always attempt to find other records to back up the information you find. Information from sources needs to agree or you have to resolve the conflicts they’ve created. In the example above, that was done by examining the informant on the death certificate, finding the birth record, and discussing why Gerald would not have been a good informant to report on his grandparents’ identities. Corroboration in records and the information they contain is key to making solid claims in your genealogical research.
All genealogists know, or should, that you have to find at least two independent sources that agree. AT LEAST two. If your sources don’t agree, you have to keep digging or have a reasonable, logical explanation for why they don’t agree. That is called resolution of conflicts. So, do you believe everything that you read in newspaper articles? No! Well, you should at least try to find an independent source that provides the same information.
Here is an example:
The above obituary states that Martha Meeker “was born May 27, 1872 to Mr. and Mrs. Mahlon Meeker (Mary Baughman).”
I was able to order Martha’s death certificate from Tennessee. She was living with one of her children at the time of her death.
The death certificate states that her parents were Mahlon Meeker and Mary Baughman. I originally found these records back in the time when censuses only had head of household indexes on Ancestry. Do you remember those days? You could only search the database by the heads of household. When I found this obituary, I figured I should be able to find Martha Meeker with her parents Mahlon and Mary Meeker in the 1880 census and possibly the parents as a couple in 1870. I searched and searched and searched…and was unable to find them.
If you have Wood County, Ohio research, you might know that the Wood County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society has done some fantastic projects indexing the county probate birth, marriage, and death records and making those indexes available to purchase in books. Before a lot of these records were available digitized by FamilySearch, I lived by these publications! I have every single one on my bookshelf and they were so useful to me in a time before online genealogy was as big as it is now. I took a look through the birth records and found an index entry for Martha Meeker, and I ordered a copy of her birth record.
Ah ha! Now I have a birth record with different names for her parents: Lafayette Meeker and Philinda Baughman. Conflicting information that needs to be resolved. A birth record is so much better than an obituary or death record when trying to identify Martha’s parents. I will discuss why and some other factors in next week’s post. In the meantime, remember that corroborating information is very important when evaluating your evidence.