What's My Ancestor's Correct Birthday? I Just Can't Find It.

That can be quite common amongst our ancestors.

Was my great-great grandfather, Charles T. Bannister, really born on March 27, 1839? From everything I've researched, probably not. Was his middle initial actually "T"? Eventually it was. And was he born in Vermont as his death certificate states? I don't believe that's true either.

There can be several reasons why a person in the previous centuries changed their information at will.


  1. They really didn't know. Parents died early and their guardians didn't talk about it, or didn't know themselves. (If it had been left up to my father, I probably wouldn't know my information either).
  2. If a person is illiterate (can not write, read, or has had no education in mathematics), do they know their actual age on any given year, or the date of their birth?
  3. People changed their names to honor beloved companions/comrades, or to hide from their past. There were no rules as to what personal information you could change, and how often.

So, what information do I place in my genealogy software?

Place the information that appears on the actual documents you do possess. If you only have a headstone photo, place that information in your family tree. Generally, there will always be a section for "notes", and it is in there that you can write about your reservations. Also, many programs allow for alternative names, and alternative dates. It is under these events that you include the additional information that you discover.

For example, Charles T. Bannister mustered into the Union Army in 1862 as Charles Banister and was discharged as Charles T. Bannister. There are no early documents for a Charles Bannister born in 1939. And according to the various United States Census Records, he was born in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Illinois, and England. Once, between one census recording to the next census recording (a 10 year span), he aged only 5 years!

Don't you love it?

Go ahead and report what the individual and the government actually states on paper, as this is a rule of genealogy.

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