Reliability of genealogy data varies by country

The reliability of your genealogy data is is something you must be aware of throughout your search into your family tree.

Wherever your family search takes you, it is worth considering the type and level of government in that country at that time.

In many countries, the official documentation of an event such as a birth or death is taken by the government.

However, it was usually the responsibility of the people involved in an event to inform the government. These people are most likely close family members such as parents, spouses or children, or close family.

This process of informing the local government of an event is usually termed registration.

You will also find is some places that a government official, often referred to as a clerk, would tour an area to discover and record events. This would be instead of the parents or other parties having the responsibility to seek out registration.

This can lead to inaccurate dates and details of an event being recorded in the official documents. It can be hard to find an exact date in some cases.

Where does your family search take you? Is the genealogy data reliable?

Now it really depends on where and when your family search takes you as to the level of government records available. The reliability of this genealogy data will vary from place to place.

In the United States of America civil records are usually managed at state level. However, marriage records are often dealt with at county level.

There are also many exceptions that apply to US civil records. It’s best to check out the local situation before making assumptions.

In contrast, civil registration in England and Wales is taken care of by a national system administered at the local level by registrars. Records are then copied to a national office for central storage. Civil registration in Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand is also centrally maintained.

Canada and Australia civil records are created and maintained at the provincial/territorial or state level, respectively.

Generally civil records can be found earliest across Europe mostly thanks to the influence of Napoleon. Many areas under his rule began civil registration from the late 1700s.

Civil registration came rather later to the ‘New World’ and dates do vary from place to place. Again you are encouraged to research local variations.

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Key points to take away

  • The reliability of genealogy data will vary from place to place
  • You may find inaccurate dates and details of an event being recorded in the official documents
  • It can be tough deciding which data can be considered reliable and which cannot so be prepared to move on if you don’t believe you are the right track. Trust your instincts.