Monday, March 3, 2014

When was Uriah S. Woodward born?

In my most recent "52 Ancestors" post, I gave Uriah Sawyer Woodward's date of birth as "circa 1846-47", with this explanatory footnote:
This is based on his given age in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 censuses, and on his marriage record; the 1859 census places his birth year at 1846, and the other three sources at 1847. I find it hard to credit the implied birth in 1842 (from 1880 census) or 1843 (from his disinterment record and grave marker), when his age was given so consistently in the early censuses.
Now, anyone researching this Woodward line is almost certain to have noticed numerous online family trees giving an exact birth date for Uriah of 10 Mar 1844 (or, in some cases, 1843).1 So why didn't I take this into account in my estimate? Well, in fact, I did take it into account – but I don't believe either date is correct, and I didn't want to add a lengthy explanation to an already lengthy post. So here is the full explanation.

To begin with, these ubiquitous dates are universally presented without any source or documentation. Almost certainly, the vast majority were simply copied from another (unsourced) online tree. Oddly enough, I found that a pedigree chart prepared by my late brother, Marshall K. Kirk (who had done extensive research into our Woodward line), had the same 10 Mar 1844 birth date, without explanation.2 A painstaking and meticulous researcher, my brother could not have pulled this date out of thin air, yet none of the extant public records appear to have a birth date for Uriah. Where did he get it? After digging through my brother's voluminous research papers, I believe I have discovered the ultimate source of this information.

Around 1989-90, Gertrude F. Woodward (Uriah's granddaughter) provided my brother with a typed "family record" (with some handwritten additions) of the Woodward and Washburn families, which included exact dates of birth for most of the named individuals.3 It was evidently prepared by Gertrude's older brother, Bernard C. Woodward, sometime before 7 Mar 1960, when he mailed it to their mother, Mrs. Althea L. (Hawkins) Woodward, wife of Uriah's son Fred. My brother photocopied the document before returning it to Gertrude, and then transcribed and annotated it. While she was unable to tell him anything further about its origins, he believed it may have been derived from a family Bible record, and his analysis states:
That it is an authentic family record, and not the product of ex post facto research, is made likely by the very wide territory covered by the Samuel Washburn family, and the impossibility – as I can attest – of gleaning all the above data from public records. A year's work, however... has shown that all statements in the record that could be checked against public records were, in the main, correct. (Where discrepancies occur, they are minor – as, for example, in exact dates...).4
This family record gives the birth date of Uriah S. Woodward as "Mar. 10, 1844." Given its pre-1960 provenance, this document is almost certainly the ultimate origin, then, of the unsourced birth date found in so many online family trees. To my knowledge, my brother never published an online tree, but he undoubtedly had shared this information with other active researchers and relatives of the Woodward line, one or more of whom may well have published the information sans source. (The 10 Mar 1843 date is most likely a simple adjustment based on Uriah's gravestone.)

Which still begs the question, why don't I believe either of these dates? The answer lies in the apparent accuracy of the birth dates of Uriah's siblings compared to the census records. The table below lists the birth dates of Royal and Mary Woodward's children given in the family record sheet, along with the ages and calculated birth years where I was able to locate census records.5-11 (I calculated the birth year from each census based on the assumption that the birth month in the family record was correct, i.e., an age of 7 in the 1860 census implies a birth year of 1853 if the birth month is before the census month, but 1852 if the birth month is after the census month.)

Birth dates of children of Royal and Mary (Sawyer) Woodward from family record
vs. ages and calculated years of birth from census records.
The ages given in the earlier censuses for each child are likely to be the most accurate. Looking at the ages from the first two censuses found for each child, we find that – with the notable exception of Uriah – in every case the calculated birth year is the same as, or at most one year off from, the birth date in the family record. What are the chances that the informant would be able to report the ages of the other children so accurately, but then report a 6-year-old as 4, or a 16-year-old as 13 (with the same child being the sole discrepancy each time)? I have to conclude that Uriah's given ages of 4 and 13 (and calculated birth years of 1846 or 1847) were equally as accurate as those of his siblings, and that the 1844 birth date in the family record is incorrect.

The simplest explanation for this one glaring discrepancy may be a simple typographical error; or, assuming that the typed family record was a transcription of a handwritten record such as a Bible record, the transcriber may simply have misread a handwritten 7 as a 4, not a far-fetched possibility when you look at some typical examples of the number "7" as written in contemporary census records:
Some "7" characters from mid-19th century census records
If either of these explanations is correct, then Uriah's actual birth date is probably 10 Mar 1847 – exactly what we could expect from those early census ages.

  1. See, for example, “Public Member Trees,” database, (, results of search for Uriah Woodward, born 1843.
  2. Marshall K. Kirk, comp., Ancestry of Kathleen Murphy Kirk, ca 1990; Kirk-Murphy Family Charts, privately held by Kathy Kirk McCracken, Virginia Beach, Virginia. 
  3. Bernard C. Woodward, comp., Washburn-Yates-Woodward family record (typescript with handwritten additions, ca 1960); photocopies privately held by Kathy Kirk McCracken, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Originally mailed to Mrs. Althea L. Woodward (Mr. Woodward's mother) in 1960, the document was privately held by Gertrude F. Woodward (Mr. Woodward's sister) in 1989, when she supplied it, and the original postmarked mailing envelope, to Marshall K. Kirk for photocopying; the current owner of the photocopies inherited them in 2005 from Mr. Kirk. The current owner and location of the original document are unknown.
  4. Marshall K. Kirk, NEHGS Enquiries Service, "Woodward-Washburn Family Record" (typescript with handwritten notes, ca 1990); Marshall K. Kirk Research Files, privately held by Kathy Kirk McCracken, Virginia Beach, Virginia. This draft of an unfinished transcription/annotation of the Bernard C. Woodward family record (see note 3) includes Kirk's evaluation of the document as "an authentic family record".
  5. 1850 U.S. Census, Caledonia County, Vermont, Walden, p. 579 (penned), p. 289 (stamped), dwelling 457, family 453, Royal Woodward household; digital images, ( : accessed 2 May 2012).
  6. 1860 U.S. Census, Caledonia County, Vermont, Walden, p. 65, dwelling 1, family 1, Royal Woodward household; digital images, ( : accessed 2 May 2012).
  7. 1870 U.S. Census, Caledonia County, Vermont, Walden, p. 4, dwelling 32, family 27, Royal Woodward household; digital images, ( : accessed 2 May 2012).
  8. 1870 U.S. Census, Orleans County, Vermont, Holland, p. 8, dwellings 56-57, families 61-62, John S. Woodward and Uriah "Woodard" households; digital images, ( : accessed 2 May 2012).
  9. 1880 U.S. Census, Coos County, New Hampshire, Dummer, ED 38, p. 4 (penned) D (printed), dwelling 32, family 33, Uriah Woodward household; digital images, ( : accessed 2 May 2012).
  10. 1860 U.S. Census, Orleans County, Vermont, Barton, pp. 187-8, dwellings 1482-83, families 1479-80, Wm. S. Allard and "Ellen" S. Woodward households; digital images, ( : accessed 3 Mar 2014). Nancy J. Allard is is Nancy Woodward.
  11. 1870 U.S. Census, Orleans County, Vermont, Barton, p. 36, dwelling 285, family 323, Eben S. "Wooward" household; digital images, ( : accessed 3 Mar 2014). 
  12. 1880 U.S. Census, Orleans County, Vermont, Barton, ED 150, p. 25 (penned), dwelling 201, family 214, Eben S. Woodward household; digital images, ( : accessed 3 Mar 2014). 

No comments: