By Don Taylor
I recently attended a Greater Portland Chapter of the Maine Genealogical Society where the speaker, Pam Stone Eagleson spoke about “Confronting Conflicting Evidence.” It was a very good talk. As I listened to it I was thinking, ‘It doesn’t really apply to me;’ I’m pretty good a reconciling conflicting evidence.’ It wasn’t until sometime later that it hit me, she was talking about “Confronting” and not “reconciling” evidence. Do I really confront contradictions or do I just accept inconsistencies without thinking about them too much?
When I changed software long ago because of a database corruption and because of the shortcomings I’ve experienced in exporting to a GED file and importing a GED file into different software my sources are in a bit of a disarray. Because of that, my practice is to take my original sources and reintegrate them as though they were new sources then delete my old sources as redundant. I was doing that cleanup for my 3rd great-grandfather, Stephen Blackhurst.
I began the walk up from my earliest source citation.
- 1841 England Census – Good[i]
- 1850 US Census – Good[ii]
- 1855 New York Census – Good[iii]
- 1860 US Census – Whoa Nellie!
My 1860 Census record seemed to come from another planet. Lots of conflicts. Looking at the record from the perspective of having just seen the previous four records provided a new at the conflicts. I decided I need to confront the conflicts head on.
The conflicts include:
- Surname – Blacklin family – Not Blackhurst family
- Age of Stephen: 60, (b. 1799-1800) verses 1802-1804 of other records (3 to 4 years off).
- Age of Fannie: 59, (b. 1800-1801) verses 1806-1810 of other records (6 or 7 years off).
- Married: The box for “married during the past year” is marked. Other records indicate they married in 1825.
Gosh, could I have attributed the wrong family to my tree? I haven’t done that in years.
The kids in the household look to be right for the Blackhurst family.
Sarah is 11, although she should be 12.
Louisa is 22 – Her age is right, but the name is different. Previous records included her as “Eleazer” and “Ealonr.” I guess I can get “Eleazer” out of Louisa – but “Ealonr”? Maybe there is a middle name I don’t know about yet.
William is the right name and age, 24.
Sadly, Stephen died in 1869. The 1870 Census doesn’t show relationships; however, the Fanny Blackhurst family has the right surname – Blackhurst.
Fanny is head of household. Living with clearly is her daughter Louisa, now age 31. It appears that Louisa married during the previous decade and had two children. Husband (unknown Sanders) is absent from the record.
Likewise, daughter Elizabeth, aka Bessie, is living in the house with her husband, Isaac Earl, and a daughter Mary, age 8.
I’ll add that other family members, such as my 2nd great-grandmother Sarah Blackhurst Barber, are living in the same area (Sheridan Township, Calhoun County, Michigan, so I am pretty confident that the Blackhurst family moved from Auburn, Cayuga County, New York, to Sheridan Township, Calhoun County, Michigan, sometime between 1850 and 1860.
Going back to look at the conflicts.
I can’t explain the Blackhurst/Blacklin surname conflict. Because the family appears to be consistent with the other records depicting the Blackhurst family, before and after the 1860 Census. I have searched the 1850 and 1870 Censuses for Blacklin families without success. Also I have searched for the Blackhurst surname in the 1860 census to no avail. I believe I have done a reasonably exhaustive search and believe that the Blacklin surname is a census taker error.
“Married during the past year” is a problem. It is certainly possible that Stephen married a second time to a woman also named Fanny. That would explain the shift in age. Another possibility exists in that the census taker marked people who were married as married in the past year. The first three family units on the page are all marked as marked as married in the past year.
The first household on the page is Thomas Saunders (27) with Marion (24) and two children (5 & 3). The second household on the page is Stephen (65) with Fanny (59) and three children (24, 22, and 11). The third household on the page is David Bowen (33) Valindima (24) and two children (2 & 1). It just seems odd to me that all three of these apparent family units were married in the past year. Unless I find some compelling evidence elsewhere, I don’t believe that Stephen and Fanny were married in the year previous to the 1860 census or that Stephen was married twice. So again, I believe this is a Census Taker error.
My experience has told me that ages are most accurate early in life. The ages for children under 10 seem the most accurate. Women seem to have their birth year increase during their late 20s, 30s, and 40s. In their 50s their birth years seem to return to their original and in their 80s and 90s their birth year often seems to move before their original birth year. Men’s ages seem to go similarly, however, single men in their 50s and 60s seem to be older if they are married and seem to be younger if they are single or widowed.
Stephen appears to fit this model
- 1841 – Age 39 – b. circa[vi] 1802
- 1850 – Age 46 – b. circa 1804
- 1855 – Age 57 – b. circa 1798
- 1860 – Age 60 – b. circa 1800
- 1869 – Died – Marker says 1801
Fanny’s ages also fit this model.
- 1841 – Age 30 – b. circa 1811
- 1850 – Age 42 – b. circa 1808
- 1855 – Age 48 – b. circa 1807
- 1860 – Age 59 – b. circa 1801
- 1870 – Age 64 – b. circa 1806
- 1880 – Age 74 – b. circa 1806
- 1885 – Died – Marker says 1806
The bottom line is that I believe I have confronted the inconsistencies in the facts of the 1860 Census records and the have facts in my database as appropriate. Pam Stone Eagleson’s talk about “Confronting Conflict” led me to further consider some inconsistencies in my tree and that is a good thing. Thank you, Pam.
Sources and Endnotes
[i] 1841 England Census, Ancestry.Com, Yorkshire, Kingston upon Hull, Parish of Holy Trinity, Pages 21 & 22. Stephen Blackhurst.
[ii] 1850 Census (FS) (NARA), Family Search, Stephen Blackhurst – Auburn, Cayuga, New York. Accessed 25 Aug 2013. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCT2-GRX.
[iii] 1855 New York Census, Family Search, Stephen Blackhurst – Auburn, Cayuga, New York. Accessed 25 August 2013. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K675-B3M.
[iv] 1860 Census, Family Search, Stephen Blacklin – Sheridon, Calhoun, Michigan – Line 7. Accessed 25 August 2013. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MWDJ-W8X.
[v] 1870 Census (FS) (NARA), Family Search, Fanny Blackhurst Head – Calhoun, Sheridan, Michigan, Page 30, Line 24.
[vi] Circa – When I enter a “circa” date, it generally encompasses the year before and the year shown. For example, b. circa 1802 generally means 1801 to 1802. In the example of the 1850 Census which was taken on June 1, 1850, an age of 46 suggests the individual was born between 2 June 1803 and 1 June 1804. On occasion, I also use “About” or “Abt” meaning the same thing.