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Oklahoma Genealogical Society


What Is Proof?


From Oklahoma Genealogical Society Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 3, September 1964

Transcribed to Electronic form by Jo White



Brief notes for program presented to OGS by Marie Garland, May 4, 1964, OGS Member



Establishing fact by evidence is proof.  Lawyers and courts wrangle daily attempting to ascertain proof beyond the shadow of a doubt.


There is not a genealogical tree in existence whose limbs do not contain a few branches which, when certain twigs first appeared, caused the lifting of eyebrows.  Old records are full of publicly acknowledged natural children.  A genealogist’s most needed proofs are those of birth, marriage, death, and parentage, proving a person was in fact the child of a certain union.


Births are generally found by checking


Having all these sources, it is usually possible to ascertain a birth.  Immediately let me caution you, nearly all of the sources may contain errors in either dates or spelling or both.  Being the first born of my parents, I was deflated to note my mother wrote my birth as February 14.  It was the 15th, the day the Maine was wrecked.  Our milch cow had little Valentine the day before on the 14th.  I wouldn’t change our bible for anything!  I like it wrong.


Let it suffice to know when a person has gone to the trouble to record a statistic, he or she generally did so to the best of his ability and knowledge.  One of our family Bibles had pages so faint it was difficult to copy.  I had the sheets photostated (sic) and then I took the Bible to an engineer in O.U. and asked him to retrace lightly inking in the fading words and figures.  Submitting Bible records, whether certified, photostated or xeroxed, is not considered adequate proof without a copy of the page from the Bible showing its date and publisher.  This may be at the front of the Bible or between the Old and New Testament.   It is often called the “Title” page.


Be prepared for out and out fraud.  Throughout the United States not many years ago “JENNINGSes” suddenly became family tree conscious because of the Jennings millions.    The fortune escheated to the British Crown.  Some of the printed genealogical material I have examined on this family leads me strongly to suspect connivance and downright dishonesty.


Errors creep into census reports.  Place 1850 and 1860 censuses side by side on a family, and for some reason persons are often not ten years older in 1860.


Marriage records are often much more difficult to secure because the laws governing them varied.  These records may be found in

Because marriage proof is often harder to find, collateral evidence is acceptable.  An example: deed by a husband and wife to property for her named father.


Secondary evidence is also accepted for marriages.  Examples: old letters relating to contemporary events, and depositions.  Old depositions are considered good as the makers in those days were careful as to what they said under oath.


Always keep in mind errors of commission and omission.  In 1959 in Maury County, Tenn. a local genealogist, unsolicited, brought to my hotel one morning all the marriages she had copied on KINGs from the bonds located in the basement – and one was mine!  Three year later this book (Maury County Marriages Between 1807-1837) was compiled.  Imagine my surprise to find my KING marriage of 1822 missing.  I wrote to the Clerk and in due time I received a certified copy.  I don’t know how mine was overlooked.   Were there others overlooked?  This is not to the compilers.  I understand they are working on the year 1837 forward and I’ll purchase it as soon as my book fund permits.


One of the most vexing problems is proving a certain person was the child of a particular union.  In copying census records of 1850 on, if the head of a household shows a valuation after his or her name, this Indicates property taxed and of record.  Disposition of this property, real and/or personal, must be accounted for either by will, deed, or estate settlement.  Detailed relationships are often set out.  But again that stumbling block “my children," mentioned but not named may send you researching elsewhere.


Orphan Courts give guardians appointed, bondsmen, and name the parent (or parents) of the minor child.


Of course, obituaries usually give the correct date of the week and one must complete the exact time from the paper – weekly or daily.  Sometimes friends and acquaintances supply misinformation unwittingly.  I was with my father at his death and when I secured a copy of his death certificate from the Vital Statistics Department of this state, I was shocked to find my brother had supplied wrong information.  He just didn’t know.  But that written error is a matter of record for all time to come.


May I suggest when visiting old cemeteries you take along besides your chalk, hard backed notebooks and pencil, a sharp pointed stick and a small spade.  I discovered two almost completely covered tombstones from a small exposed tip.


Every person working on his family history should have a copy of Is That Lineage Right?  Anyone working in North Carolina should read North Carolina Genealogical Reference.  It gives material available in every county, and cost of same.


The Indian Archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society contain a tremendous amount of indexed data but it is not all indexed.  Chickasaw marriages between Indians and white persons may be found in these records.  Proofs of heirship are governed by Arkansas, not Oklahoma law.


I have with me a copy of a book which I referred to as a minister’s diary, A Presbyterian Missionary to the North Alabama and Mississippi Presbytery.  Integration was a matter of course.  Indians, Blacks and Whites all attended the same services.


As all of you probably knew when you came in this evening, PROOF I S EVIDENCE OF FACT SECURED BY HARD DIGGING.



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