Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Vital Records Aren’t Always Accurate

Author and genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills has stated that “as researchers, we can take no record at face value”. [1]

That statement is solid genealogical advice, but I didn’t think I would need to apply it to my father-in-law’s marriage registration record. After all, I figured that Pop – as the informant of his own marriage – would provide accurate and reliable details.

Except that I was wrong, because Pop hadn’t been fully accurate on that record.
Marriage registration of Bill and Ann Demoskoff
Bill and Ann Demoskoff's marriage registration (cropped image)

About a year and a half ago, I thought it would be nice to send away for my husband’s parents’ marriage registration. We both knew when and where his parents married, because Pop told us when we asked him many years ago. He said he and Ann married on 1 June 1952 at her father’s farm near Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

When Michael and I told his father that we requested the registration and were looking forward to receiving it, he asked why we bothered to order it. The way he looked at it was since he had already told us when he married, we didn’t need to get it in writing, so to speak.

We received the “Registration of Marriage” record from the province of Saskatchewan in October 2012. [2] Something immediately stood out when we looked at it. The “Place of Marriage” was a land description: SE 1-35-32-W1, only, it wasn’t the description for Ann’s father’s property as we knew it. Her father George’s property was NW 17-31-32-1, and had been since 1918, and still was at the time of her marriage. What was going on? Where had Bill and Ann married?

Michael called his father to ask him. Pop, who was in his mid-90s at this time, gave it some thought, and proceeded to tell his son that he and Ann married in two places.

That detail didn’t make sense to my husband, so he asked his father for clarification. It turns out that the marriage ceremony took place on the Cazakoff family property at NW 17-31-32-1 like he originally told us, but that afterwards, the bride and groom and their guests had the wedding meal and festivities at another location – at SE 1-35-32-W1, where Pop resided as a lodger. In Pop’s mind, his marriage therefore occurred in “two places”. (For some additional information about Bill and Ann’s wedding, see Wedding Wednesday: Demoskoff – Cazakoff.)

The day after their wedding, Bill and Ann drove to nearby Arran, the rural municipality seat, to register their marriage. When he was asked for the “place of marriage”, he replied “SE 1-35-32-W1”, even though that’s where the wedding feast was held, not where the wedding ceremony took place. Now that he was of an advanced age with a somewhat poor memory, he couldn’t explain to his son why he gave the wrong location to the clerk that day in June 1952.

Here’s what I learned from this exercise:

  • Don’t solely depend on a family member’s memory for dates and places of events.
  • Order vital records where and when you can.
  • Check the received records for inconsistencies.
  • Get clarification for questionable details.

And most of all, don’t take ‘records at face value’ :-) 


1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 33.

2. Province of Saskatchewan, marriage registration, no. 001562, William W. Demoskoff – Ann Cazakoff marriage, 1 June 1952; Department of Public Health – Division of Vital Statistics, Saskatchewan.

Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.


  1. Good tip, Yvonne, and you're so lucky you could ask your father-in-law for clarification! What could be better than learning the back story as well as the facts?

    1. I hadn't thought of including "learning the back story" as something I learned from my father-in-law's marriage registration. Thanks for the extra tip and comment, Marian!

  2. Yvonne,

    I want you to know that your blog post is listed in today Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/04/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-april-25.html

    Have a fantastic weekend!