Tuesday 24 September 2019

Errors in Family-Provided Information

I am sure most genealogists have found mistakes in information passed along to them by other family members. Which is why we need to check everything. But I did not expect such a thing to happen so close in term of generations.

For years I have carried the name of one of my father’s deceased sisters on my family tree as Marion Elizabeth Shepheard, who apparently was born and died in 1919. The information about her birth date came from a write-up done by my dad for his family, published in KIK Country, the history book of the area in which they lived in southern Alberta.

It appears he either was misinformed or did not remember the facts. I do not know where the information about her name came from. It could have been from my parents or perhaps just a typo on my part.

The Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society recently put together a new source of information called the Alberta Name Index. It contains the names of Alberta residents found in various documents including probates, local histories, obituaries, coroner records, land records, etc. As a matter of course and curiosity, I do searches for my surname on every index I find. I did so for this one as well and came up with two instances. Why there were not more I do not know but the index work is only in its infancy.

In this case there were two hits: one for my uncle and aunt whose names were included with a write-up about her family in another area history publication, the Hussar Heritage; and one was in a 1921 Coroner’s Report concerning the death of an infant by the name of Marion Margaret Shepheard. I thought the death details of the baby were curious, firstly because of the similarity of her name and since the date was so close to that of my dad’s sister.

I found the reference to the Hussar Heritage without too much trouble. While you can purchase copies of it on Amazon (it is quite expensive), the book was actually digitized and is available through the University of Calgary Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections. This and other collections are worth checking out.

I asked friends who live in Edmonton if they could check on the documents when they next had a chance to visit the Provincial Archives of Alberta, where birth, marriage and death records are kept. The Coroner’s Report recorded the cause of death was pneumonia. The death record showed she died in the village of Irricana, on 5 December 1921, at the age of four months, although it spelled her surname as Shepherd. Neither document named the baby’s parents so that left a question as to whether she was family.

Irricana was, of course, where my grandparents’ family lived which strongly suggested Marian Margaret was my aunt. That was further demonstrated on a newspaper clipping I have that referenced the death of Marian Margaret Shephard, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P. Shephard – more spelling problems. I thought the “Mr. and Mrs. P.” should have been Mr. and Mrs. J. P. The clipping is undated and there was no indication where it was published. So, it was not helpful in determining when and where the death occurred.

I spoke to my 84-year old aunt (she is still as sharp as a tack) about her deceased sisters. She did not know about the death record and coroner's report, but she did confirm the baby's name was Marian Margaret Shepheard. She also knew the infant had died of pneumonia at only a few months of age. She was under the impression the baby was born and died in 1919 as well, so the date of the records was news to her.

The documents my friends obtained were exceedingly helpful in unraveling this situation. I am still curious how we were able to get the death record when the infant does not appear in the death index on the provincial archives list. I have checked the list for the other baby who died, Evelyn Ethel Shepheard, apparently in 1926 (I will have to check further on that date now), but she does not appear on the list either. Both are still in the restricted window of 120 years for birth records. I did try to get the certificates before but was unsuccessful. Perhaps both birth dates were wrong.

I am trying to get information from the town of Irricana about the burials. I do have a plot map of the cemetery so am hoping there will be records of names and dates as well. Find A Grave has an entry for Marion Elizabeth Shepheard with birth and death years of 1919. I don’t know where the individual who posted the information got it, but it is wrong. Perhaps the cemetery records are too. The town has erected a plaque for many individuals “whose burial places in this cemetery are unknown” but it shows the two little girls as just "baby Shepheard" so it is not of great usel.

Many family records I have are coming together, even with all the spelling errors. Surprisingly (or perhaps not!), some containing information I thought were correct after all these years have been shown to contain errors. The lesson is that one should take nothing for granted, even the statements of very close relatives.