My “Devil’s advocate” pops up and waves red flags at me whenever something is not quite right based on “our” experience. Our most often used flag is for “black holes” – too much missing information. The connection may be right, but it certainly hasn’t yet been proved, and skipping over these holes is like skipping two out of every three nails when you build your deck – it might hold for a while, but it isn’t safe.
Our ideal is to securely “bolt” our genealogy deck together with full and accurate birth, marriage, and death records for each individual, but that ideal is rarely achieved. Yet we quickly learn that relying on a single record can lead us down a garden path. I once worked on a case where a groom stated at his marriage that he was born in Oklahoma, but when his wife made out his death certificate, she said he was born in New York. Normally, we give greater credence to a marriage record, where information is supplied by the principals, than to a death record where information may be supplied by a spouse or child, so I spent a good deal of time chasing Oklahoma records, until I discovered the wife was right. Because her husband worked in a “Wild West” show at the time they were married, however, a birthplace of Oklahoma was more fitting to his role!
Often blank spaces are left because an exact date or place is not known, but we can almost always extrapolate information from other records – e.g., an estimated birth year from a census record – that will give us parameters within which to make judgments.
Let’s say our sources tell us that John Smith and Mary Brown married in 1799 and had a daughter Abigail born in 1800. We also have a record that says an Abigail Smith married Harry Carey in 1816, but it does not give their parents’ names nor their ages, plus we have no probate record for John Smith nor death record for Abigail (Smith) Carey. It seems possible that these Abigails are the same person, but now let’s say we locate the 1850 census for the family of Abigail and Harry Carey that gives her age as 55, indicating she was born about 1795. Is the age in the census wrong or are we dealing with two Abigails?