Quick Lesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof

Dave Robison – QuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof [1]

As with any genealogical research question, establishing the accuracy of an item as simple as a date of birth can prove elusive and, at times, frustrating. In the case of one of my own direct ancestors, the search has taken me to many sources, with two, rather than one definitive answer. Although the search has been exhaustive, neither date has been proved.

This is the case of my 4th great grandfather, Hezekiah Robison. He was also the subject last week’s assignment regarding the number of wives. The very first record I had on his age or date of birth came from an on-line family tree, a source I was unfortunate enough to use 15 years ago, when I was so enthusiastic about my own family’s genealogy, I was hungry for every tidbit I could find. Unfortunately, it was one of the first conflicts I ran into. There were 2 schools of “thought” based on other people’s enthusiasm. First, his year of birth was alleged to be 1777 and later, in other trees, 1784. My solution at the time was extraordinarily amateur. I simply picked one!

Hezekiah RobertsonRobison

Hezekiah ROBRSON

At a family reunion in 2001, I visited the Robinson Cemetery, off of Robinson Road in Robinson Hollow near Elkmont, Limestone County, Alabama. There could be as many as 30 ancestors here but only about 16 stones remain. Other markers may have been wooden or disintegrated and sunken into the ground.  Now I would have thought that with all the “Robinson” designations, that there’d be little doubt as to spelling. This stone provided a new entry into the various spellings: “ROBRSON.” And as you can see in the photo[2], “Died June the 19th 1852 Aged 75 years” suggests a birth year 1777. Other records would disagree. (FOR THE RECORD: I did not chalk this stone. As a matter of fact, I’ve never chalked a stone. It’s not a good idea!)

1850 United States Federal Census-30A few years later, I was able to find him in a few census records. The first source mentioning an age was the entry for Hezekiah in the 1850 US Census[3]. Here he or the informant stated his age as 66 suggesting a birth year of 1784. Just with these two sources, the information they contain 2 glaring inconsistencies. The 1850 census taken just 2 years prior to his death states his age as 66 while the gravestone which was likely carved just after his death states his age as 75. Obviously, there’s more work to be dome to resolve this conflict.

To recap what I have so far, there are 2 sources: the 1850 US census and a gravestone. Both I would consider original. But keep in mind that the information each contains could fall into either primary or secondary status. As Elizabeth Shown Mills describes in her article “QuickLesson 2,”[4]  information should not be confused as “fact.” It is merely the content found in a source.

Since ether are so far only 2 sources, we can hardly say that so far, the research has been exhaustive. As a result, the hunt was on to prove or disprove one or the other. Since Hezekiah was a veteran of the War of 1812, the records at Fold3.com, a source, may have contained information to clear up the discrepancy. However, his military record including enlistment data, muster rolls or any other mention of a “Hezekiah Rob*son” make it difficult to ascertain as to which Hezekiah is which.  His widow’s subsequent pension application file found during a visit to the NARA in Washington DC contains a number of documents none of which make any reference as to his age. The search at Fold3 has been ongoing as more and more records are digitized and uploaded. Therefore, this source should be reviewed from time to time.

Finally, any document that references Hezekiah’s place of birth states Virginia. I have searched on line and in person in a variety of sources in Virginia to no avail. Since I’m far from knowing exactly where in Virginia, he may well have been born in what is now West Virginia.

For now, at least, the sources and the information they contain do not hold enough evidence to reasonably come to any conflict resolution. And now, the search for a date or even a year of birth together with a location, has been put on hold for a variety of reasons. But stay tuned! Someday I’ll have a better answer.

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-2-sources-vs-information-vs-evidence-vs-proof : accessed 19 March 2016).

[2] Photo taken by the author and remains in the author’s collection.

[3] 1850 US Census, Population Schedule, Alabama, Limestone County, District Four, household of Hezekiah Robinson; digital media, Ancestry.com, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 September2012) NARA roll M432_8, p 4A.

[4] Ibid.

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