I saw that my Great-Grandfather’s, Arthur Durwood Brown, birthday was coming up. Then I realized that I have a quite a range of birth years for him. I know that markers are often wrong about birth years, but they seem so right, they are cast in stone after all. When I encounter inconsistencies, I often find the best course of action is to do a table and look closely at all of the sources I have which relate and analyze how they fit in.
From various documents, I have birth years for him of 1863, 1866, 1868, 1869, and 1870. Below is a table of documents with the year implied and various notes.
|1869||1870 Census [i] – indicates he is 7/12 and born in December.||Closest record to the event and proof birth year cannot be 1870.|
|1869||1880 Census [ii]– Indicates he is 10 years old||2nd closest record to the event.|
|1870||1900 Census [iii] – Birthdate Age 29, Born Dec 1870||Can’t be due to 1870 census.|
|1866||1910 Census [iv]– Age 43||Aged 14 years between Censuses.|
|1863||1920 Census [v]– Age 56||Aged 13 years.|
|1868||1928 Grave marker [vi]|
|1868||2001 Letter from family minister Les Crider [vii]||Church Records.|
|1866||Info about the family from Victoria Brown Quelland.[viii]|
|1869||1928 – Death Certificate [ix]||Wife Mary was the informant.|
As far as census records are concerned, I typically accept the 1900 Census as the most likely correct. It is the only census which routinely identifies the month and year of a person’s birth as well as the individual’s age. In this case, the 1900 Census is in direct conflict with the 1870 Census. If Arthur were born in December of 1870, he couldn’t have been enumerated on the 2nd day of August 1870.
The 1910 and 1920 censuses appear just to be wrong. No clear reason for the error. I have no conjecture as to why Arthur aged 27 years during the 20 years between 1900 and 1920.
I might have thought that Arthur’s daughter, Victoria Brown Quelland, would have gotten his age correct, however, she was incorrect about her mother’s birthdate as well. (See: Mary Elizabeth Manning [Brown] (1878-1983)). In both cases, she indicated her parents as being older than they actually were.
The 1868 birthdate on the grave marker would seem likely, except that his death certificate, done at the same time, indicates 1869 and the informant of his death certificate was his wife Mary, who should know the date that Arthur thought his birth was.
All the records that indicate a month or day are consistent with his being born on December 5th. I believe his birth year to be 1869 as indicated by the 1870 and 1880 Censuses and his death certificate and not 1868 as indicated by his grave marker and the family minister or any other year as identified by other sources.
[vii] Don Taylor Personal File Archive: E-Mail Les Crider to Don Taylor – 2001-01-13
[viii] Don Taylor Personal File Archive: Genealogical Notes by Victoria Brown Quelland – aka Genealogy Information Card written by Victoria Brown Quelland.
[ix] Minnesota Historical Society: Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death; #2215 – Arthur D. Brown.