Resolving Evidence Inconsistencies by Philip R. Thieler

Published on 4 December 2021 at 08:00


Have you found yourself unable to resolve evidence inconsistencies discovered in source documents? For example, missing, different, or misspelled surnames can be troubling for anyone trying to prove parent-child relationships.

At first glance, there is the feeling of surprise, then disappointment, and finally, doubt. Let me assure you, that is not the time to give up.

Speaking from personal experience, I faced this challenge in the past and it took both time and study to gain a keen understanding of the nuances in dealing with conflicting evidence found in source documents.

The technique of correlation allows genealogists to evaluate a wide spectrum of evidence items in an effort to address and resolve conflicting information.

  • But how does it work?

The Science and Art of Correlation

The Science: In addressing this task, the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Genealogy Standards Second Edition, provides two guideposts in assisting genealogists in addressing evidence inconsistencies: The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)

  • GPS 48 concerns itself with both the challenge and need of resolving evidence You simply can’t ignore them away.
  • GPS 47 Evidence Correlation offers a method of testing evidence by “comparing and contrasting evidence items” as a means of deconflicting inconsistent

The Art: Although there are several ways to present one’s findings, my method of choice is to create a “genealogical timeline”. This approach offers an easy-to-view picture of the target ancestor and his/her siblings as they made their journey through life.

  • I attempt to include their movements and activities to show when, where, and how their lives intertwined at certain points.
  • If used correctly, the timeline will also identify any potential inconsistencies.

In the below sample genealogical timeline, two siblings are highlighted. Since a timeline is only a snapshot, you should follow up with more detail and highlight some of the key points of correlation between source documents, family members, and events to include addressing any conflicting evidence.

All documents except one show that George’s date of birth was 25 September 1897. His VA Death Record states that his DOB was 23 September 1897. Since George signed both his 1931 Voter Registration Record and 1942 Draft Registration Card as the informant, one can assume that his date of birth was actually 25 September 1897 and not 23 September. Clerical error or not, the conflicting evidence must be addressed.

Analyzing Signatures

Evaluating signatures made by an ancestor in different documents is another technique that may assist you in resolving conflicting evidence.

In his Jamestowne Society Magazine article entitled “Identification of Ancestors Validated Through Signature Comparisons”, Robert A. Kean asserts that although the style and marking of signatures may vary over time, one assumes that there will be some lingering similarities.

He identifies those traits as individualizing characteristics. Kean emphasizes that due to those signature characteristics, “it is possible for even a layman to judge and determine to a genealogical certainty that the signatures were made by the same individual when taken together with the totality of the circumstances.”

Although made ten years apart, you will note in the following examples that the letter “P” in Mary’s signature is unique and similar in form and stroke. One can determine to a “genealogical certainty” that Mary E. Pearce and Mary P. Thieler were one in the same person when taken in the totality of the circumstances.

All of us have a family story to tell but there are many challenges associated with uncovering one’s family lineage - time, organization, and a voice. By a “voice” I am referring to someone who helps you build your story. In short, a person who shepherds you through your family lineage journey, and that is where a genealogist can play a key role in assisting you in discovering, developing, and presenting your family story.

I do hope that you found these tips to be helpful. If resolving conflicting evidence is your brick wall, contact us. We would like to be your voice!


“Your Lineage Journey is Our Journey”

Philip R. Thieler Founder

Your-Lineage LLC




About the Author:

Philip R. Thieler

Genealogist and Family Historian


With a strong background in American History, Family History and Genealogy,

Philip will use his expertise in research, the Genealogical Proof Standards, and the targeted Lineage Society’s application procedures to establish your family lineage with a view of delivering a complete, accurate and if proven, a successful Lineage Society application. He has a BA in History, an MA in European Area Studies and has completed Boston University’s Genealogical Principles Course.


Philip is a retired U.S. Army Colonel who had the honor of serving in numerous

senior-level positions in Europe. Those opportunities enabled Philip to gain a first- hand appreciation of European culture, history, and traditions – those rich pillars of our ancestral society that helped write a grand story – Our American Heritage.


Philip is a member of numerous Lineage Societies. He is a Genealogist on the Florida SSAR Genealogy Committee. His area of concentration is Colonial American Ancestors with a particular interest in North Carolina.


He is a lineal descendant of Lieutenant Colonel John Branch and Colonel John Bradford of the Halifax, NC Militia. He is also a member of the National Genealogical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

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