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Family Tree Friday: Discrepancies in the Records

by on August 27, 2010


We’ve all found ancestors whose names are spelled differently in every census record. Sometimes their ages don’t match up either – for example, if someone is 32 in the 1910 census, they should be 42 in the 1920 census. Frequently, however, you will see that they are listed as 38 or 40 instead. We’ve touched on these types of discrepancies before.

Sometimes, however, you will see discrepancies between different types of records. How do you know which one is correct (or closest to being correct)?

Take the case of Sidney van Slaars. Last time I showed you his 1923 passport application. In March of 1923, he returned to the U.S. On the manifest, his name is listed as Seth van Slaars, rather than Sidney. His birth date is different, too (July 1, 1901 instead of February 23, 1899). Normally, two huge discrepancies like this would make most researchers do a double take and wonder if this is even the same person. However, there is a passport number – 241469. Because this is the same number that was on Sidney’s application, it’s reasonable to assume that Sidney and Seth are, in fact, one and the same. So why the discrepancies in the name and the birthdate?

Van Slaars arrival record

The names are probably easiest to explain. Seth may have been a nickname. Since the information on the passenger manifest was taken down orally, Sidney may have identified himself as Seth. The different birth dates are harder to explain. There is a two and a half year difference between the two documents. It’s possible that the person filling out the passenger manifest wrote down the wrong person’s information. There’s really no way to know exactly why the dates are so different, but since people were required to submit proof of birth as part of their passport application, I would be inclined to accept the date on the passport as accurate.

Has anyone found any hard to explain discrepancies like this?


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