Monday, February 11, 2019

Methodology Monday~Resolving Conflicts

You've gathered several documents recording an event in your ancestor's life and as you look at the information provided, you notice there's a problem. 

The data given is not the same.
It may be different dates, places or even names. What do you do then?
Element 4 of the Genealogical Proof Standard is the Resolution of Conflicts, but how? 

If the analysis of your records show the conflict is minor and can be easily explained, such as differing birth dates in census records, a short sentence about how this is a common problem with these records should suffice. 

But what if you have a major problem?
Differing parents or spouses names, location or date variations, etc. 
How do you resolve the issue and come up with the best possible answer?

To be able to resolve conflicting evidence, you first must notice that you have one.
 Writing in narrative form as you research is a good way to record the data you are finding. As you write it should become clear if things are not adding up.
Once you see that your evidence is not agreeing, each piece needs to be examined to determine which is more likely to be correct.
Look at what you have gathered. Read back over your notes. Analyze to see who created the record and why,  who the informant was, and determine if it was created at the time of the event. Does your information come from an original or a copy that may have errors?
As you work through your conflicting evidence, you may be able to decide which is the most reliable and why.
If you are able to come to a conclusion and are able to resolve your conflict, take the time to write down your findings and what lead you to your conclusion.
This serves two purposes. 
1-A resolution of the conflict allows you to move on with your research
2-By keeping written notes on the process and the conclusion you can revisit your thought process if you ever question it or if someone else does.
It's important to know that some conflicts may not be able to be resolved with the records that are available. Even after exhaustive research, there may not be enough to give a confident answer. If that is the case, write up why you feel it can't be resolved at this time.
Records may become available in the future that will provide the evidence you need.

Headstone of Manning David Daughrity
Sumter City Cemetery
Photo Credit: Cheri Hudson Passey

When I found a problem with the dates on my great grandfather's headstone and other records giving differing death dates, I had to take a step back and look to see if I could resolve the conflict. A death certificate should have been created, but can not be found.
Gathering what I did have- his obituary, funeral home record, and memorial from his funeral were all in agreement with his date of death. 
My conclusion? The headstone is incorrect. Why? 
The obituary would not have been run BEFORE a death the funeral home wouldn't record a death previous to the event. 
The date given to the creator of the stone was either written incorrectly or misread.
Easy to do. He died on the 9th and they carved 19.

The proof statement of my analysis and findings is included in my notes about him. 
Often, I receive queries as to why I have his death date on my family "wrong" as his stone clearly shows a date ten days later. 
I simply copy my paragraph explaining the conflict resolution and send it.

When faced with conflicting evidence remember to:
Gather your evidence
Cite and analyze your sources
Write as you go
Recognize Conflicts
Examine each piece of conflicting information
Determine which is more reliable and why
Come to a resolution of the conflict if possible

Have you discovered conflicting evidence in your family tree?
Were you able to resolve it? Let us know how!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Helping you climb your family tree,


  1. Cheri, a great post about resolving conflicts!

  2. I have a memorial object with a stitched date on it of one person's death. However, the date is incorrect. If the stitched date is to be believed, the death was 5 days earlier than actually happened. In this case, the written number became smudged so the person creating the memorial object got it wrong. In another case, the death location is recorded wrong because of borders and burial laws and transporting bodies across the border would create tons of problems. So they declare the death place to be within the state of burial. It is very easy to have conflicting data and the reasons can even make sense if you can dig deep enough to figure out why.