© 2020 by Roots & Wings Research, LLC

  • Kristin Wenger

Tuesday Tip: Set in Stone?

Updated: Jul 30, 2018

Conflicting evidence. If you have been researching for any amount of time, you’ve encountered it.


Take, for example, the case of Hiram Adkins, the Confederate soldier I profiled last week. Let’s say my goal is to find Hiram’s dates of birth and death.


Hiram’s gravestone states he was born in 1835 and died in 1906. [1]


A transcript of a portion of Hiram’s obituary states he was born on 15 February 1833 and died on 4 May 1904. [2]



Does anyone notice a slight problem here? When you find discrepancies, how do you know which information is accurate?


Learning how to evaluate evidence was one of the key skills I honed during my Boston University program. If you are interested in a great summary of these concepts, check out Mary Ann Kelley’s post, Evaluating Evidence in Genealogy.


Let’s take a practical example with Hiram. We need to correlate the evidence for our question and carefully think about when the information was recorded and who provided it.


Here’s a second piece of evidence for Hiram’s date of birth.

1900 census image of Hiram Adkins household [3]


The informant was likely either Hiram himself or his wife, and it specified his birth in February 1833 (circled in red above). This information is more reliable than information provided after his death to create the gravestone.


Now let’s think about the death year. 1904 or 1906?

Multiple 1904 newspapers cited in my last story reported his death. Surely they did not report his death two years before it happened!


Is it possible that his gravestone is wrong about both his birth and death dates?


I looked at photographs of other family gravestones in the same cemetery and the case became even more curious.

Gravestone of Sarah Virginia Adkins, 1843-1911 [4]


Upon further research, his wife’s stone also appears to have incorrect dates. Alabama death records indicate she died on 19 January 1909.[5] On the 1900 census, her birth date was recorded as February 1839.[6]


Why would both of their gravestones have incorrect dates?


One potential reason is that the stones could have been made many years after their deaths by family members who only had second-hand information or faulty memories.

Look at the gravestone of their oldest child (my great-great grandmother)


Gravestone of Susan Catherine (Adkins) Burnum [7]


All of the stones match, suggesting the possibility that they were made at the same time. When Susan died at age 90 in 1948, perhaps her children had all of the stones inscribed and installed. If their grandparents had died 40 years before and they did not have access to records, maybe their recollections were not quite accurate.


This quick case study serves as a reminder to always evaluate your evidence, even if it seems set in stone!


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Sources:

[1] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 23 May 2018), memorial page for Maj. Hiram Adkins (1835–1906), Find A Grave Memorial no. 28633176, citing Cullman City Cemetery, Cullman, Cullman County, Alabama, USA; Maintained by SFC Kathline Forrester (contributor 46961246) .


[2] Robin Sterling, “Hiram Adkins,” Free State of Winston (https://www.freestateofwinston.org/hadkins.htm : accessed 22 May 2018); citing “Major Adkins Passes Away,” The Cullman Tribune (Cullman, Alabama), 6 May 1904.


[3] 1900 U.S. census, Cullman County, Alabama, population schedule, Cullman City, enumeration district (ED) 52, sheet 6-A, dwelling 110, family 110, Hiram Adkins household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2018); citing National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) microfilm publication T623, roll 12.


[4] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 23 May 2018), memorial page for Sarah Virginia Adkins (1843–1911), Find A Grave Memorial no. 28633178, citing Cullman City Cemetery, Cullman, Cullman County, Alabama, USA; Maintained by SFC Kathline Forrester (contributor 46961246) .


[5] "Alabama Deaths, 1908-1974," database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JKQJ-Z28 : 15 February 2018), Sarah Virginane Ad Kiras, 19 Jan 1909; citing reference cn 9, Department of Health, Montgomery; FHL microfilm 1,894,068.


[6] 1900 U.S. census, Cullman County, Alabama, population schedule, Cullman City, ED 52, sheet 6-A, dwelling 110, family 110, Hiram Adkins household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 May 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 12.


[7] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 23 May 2018), memorial page for Susan C Adkins Burnum (22 Mar 1858–20 Nov 1948), Find A Grave Memorial no. 30087051, citing Cullman City Cemetery, Cullman, Cullman County, Alabama, USA; Maintained by SFC Kathline Forrester (contributor 46961246).