Understanding the record creation process can help us to understand how mistakes and errors creep into records. That entry for mother’s maiden name that we are viewing in the birth register. It could have been transcribed by the records clerk from the actual birth certificate filled out by the doctor whose handwriting was not the best. The doctor asked the baby’s mother what her maiden name was and really could not understand what was said.

There are several steps from your ancestor’s mouth to your eyeball:

  • ancestor’s mouth
  • doctor’s ear
  • doctor’s brain
  • doctor wrote it down
  • clerk read it
  • clerk’s brain
  • clerk wrote it down
  • record was microfilmed
  • record was digitized
  • record got to you

Not every record has all these steps–some have fewer and occasionally there are even more. At any point the process (especially before the microfilming or digitizing), there are possible errors of interpretation.

Never hurts to ask yourself “how did this information get from my ancestor to me?”



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