Erroneous Vital Records – Annoying!

Isn’t it annoying when one of your ancestors’ vital records has incorrect information? It’s an official document – it should be correct! How dare they lie on a document that will be replicated in perpetuity on the family tree, requiring a proof summary to explain away the discrepancy! But it’s important to remember that sometimes, we should give our scorned ancestors a break; their records may be the product of excited distraction and not indicative of a desire to ruin their descendants’ family history research!

From a genealogist’s standpoint, my marriage certificate is a nightmare. We gave the wrong middle name for his father (Douglas instead of Daly), we married hundreds of miles away from home (in Vegas), and our witness was the on-duty security guard, a Mr. Ed Huggins.

My grandparents’ newly-found marriage certificate is similarly awful; a fact I can only admit now that the once-fruitless search is over. They eloped too, so one must assume that these discrepancies are based on their desire to not get caught! They were married in St. Bernard Parish, many miles away from their home in Avoyelles, and certainly not the New Orleans, where family legend has placed their marriage for nearly 90 years. Their ages are listed as 21 and 21, when in fact they were 19 and 17 (ahh, young love). And Grandma’s mother’s name is wrong. Sort of.

Interestingly, this taught me something crucial about my great grandmother. For years I have come across her name listed as “Martha Elizabeth O Bannon” on various online trees and even in published compilations, but I never understood the “Martha” part. In every record I can find of my great grandmother, her name is Elizabeth or Lizzie. I know that her name was Elizabeth; my mother’s middle name is Beth in her honor, shortened because “Mamaw” wouldn’t let my grandma name her Elizabeth, just in case people started calling her the hated nickname, Lizzie.

But Grandma’s marriage certificate clearly lists her mother’s name as Martha. Based on her insistence that my mother’s middle name not be Elizabeth, but Beth so as to avoid the hated Lizzie nickname, I assume Mamaw called herself Martha for the same reason.

But sometimes they really are just trying to be evil. A client of mine has in her possession a similarly awful death certificate, whose purpose was to confuse the powers that be. Around 1929, William Latimer abandoned his wife Mary Maude and their family of four children and went to live with another woman named Beatrice. In 1930 he listed himself on the census as a widower who was a lodger in Beatrice’s household. On his death certificate (in 1949), his spouse is listed as Beatrice Latimer. The funny thing is, he and Mary Maude never divorced, and she lived until 1975!

What a cad!