Terry's TMG Tips

Dealing with Conflicting Dates and Places

This page updated 5 Sep 2005

Version note: Applies to TMG 8 & 9

We often find conflicting information on the dates or places where events occurred. This seems to be most commonly associated with births, marriages, and deaths, in my experience. TMG allows one to record an unlimited number of Tags to record these events, so the straightforward way to record conflicting information would seem to be to simply enter a new tag for each new date or place found. But this approach creates a rather ragged and confusing report, especially narrative reports, along the lines of:

She was born 25 Jan 1853 in Johnson City. She was born 25 Jan 1854 in Johnson City. She was born 28 Jun 1854 in Rush Creek.

You can, of course, set your reports to print only primary events, but that causes its own set of problems. And, if you want to share your conflicting information, say with another researcher, there is no indication of which date you think is most likely correct.

There are better ways to deal with this issue. During my active research phase on a given line, I create special "Alt" tags to record the alternative data, as described below. This approach makes smoother reading reports, lets me control easily whether or not the conflicting information is printed, and allows clear documentation of what information came from each source. It consists of two parts – resolving those conflicts that can be resolved, and using custom tags to document those that cannot be resolved.

In practice, I generally find that these conflicts can be resolved during the course of research, and I end up removing the "Alt" tags. See the "Cleaning Up" section at the end for details.

For conflicts that extend beyond simple date and place information, for example conflicting reports of parent/child relationships, see my Research Note tag.

Some Conflicts Can be Easily Resolved

Sometimes you may be able to readily see the source of a conflict in date or place. In the case of dates, the "double-year" period offers readily apparent errors in some cases. You may be able to detect an apparent typographical error when a single digit is in error, or an apparent misreading of a handwritten date. When I think I can see such an error, I make a single tag showing the date I think is most likely correct, and describe the actual information from each source in the Citation Detail for that source, including a note as to my thinking on those I believe are in error. Or, if the logic is more complex, I may just note the actual information shown for each source, and attach my "Conclusions" source, describing my logic in the Citation Detail there. See my article on my Conclusions Source for details.

Place conflicts are also sometimes easily resolved. Changes in the names or boundaries of countries, states, counties, etc., can cause sources originating at different times show different names. And particularly in rural areas, people may use different names to describe the same place, for example variously using the name of the post office, or the nearest small village, or a larger nearby town. Here, one can choose a personal "standard" way of dealing with the conflict, entering the preferred name in the tag and showing the actual information from each source in the respective Citation Details, with notes showing how the differences were resolved.

Use Custom "Alt" Tags for Unresolved Conflicts

When there is no apparent way to resolve the conflicts I use custom "Alt" Tags to record each variation. I choose the information I think most likely to be correct, and put in a normal Tag, say a Birth Tag. Then I put each set of conflicting information in a custom tag, like Birth-Alt. Each Tag includes Citations to the Sources that support it. The Sentence in the Alt Tags is designed to produce text that makes sense when all Tags are printed. The Alt Tags are included in reports, or not, according to the intended use of the report.

Here is a sample of my Birth-Alt Tag. I have similar Tags for Baptism, Marriage, Death, and Burial.

Terry's Birth-Alt Tag:

Principal Sentence:
[P] has also been reported to have been born< [D]>< [L]>< [M]>
Witness Sentence:
    I ignore it.

Use:

  • I enter sort dates, if required, to make the Alt Tags fall after the normal Tag, and to ensure they will print after it in reports.
  • Mark the normal Tag as Primary, so it will control age calculations and be shown on charts and reports that only allow a single date/place. For other types of reports, like narratives, I always set the report to print "All Plus Witnessed" and control which tags print by using Selected Tag Types. See my article Primary & Controlling Printing for details.
  • Sometimes later information will cause me to change my mind about which is the more reliable information. In that case, it is a simple matter to go to the tags in question, click on the Event Type button, and change the types between normal and Alt versions for the affected Tags. Remember to edit the Sort Dates if required.

Notes:

  • Be sure to put the Alt Tags in the same Tag Group as the corresponding normal Tag. This will allow you to easily switch a given Tag between the Alt and normal versions as you edit old work to apply the new Alt Tags, and to switch between the two if you later decide a different set of information in more likely correct.
  • If you are not familiar with modifying Sentence Structures, you may find my article on Modifying Tag Sentence Structures helpful

Cleaning Up

Some users like to retain the Alt Tags permanently to visibly record all the various dates or places found in the course of research. Doing so retains that information prominently in the Person View, and in reports when it is included.

But my ultimate objective is to produce readable reports or web pages to share with others (see my article on Sharing for more on this). So I try to resolve as many of these cases of conflicting information as I can during the course of research, and then consolidate all the information into a single Tag and remove the Alt Tags where possible. I use these steps to do that:

  1. Copy all the source citations from the Alt tags to the regular Tag.

To copy a Citation, open that Citation as if to edit it, and press F9 to save it to the "Repeat" list and close the Citation. Close that Tag and open the other one. Press F4 to open a new Citation, then F3 to recall the previous one from the repeat list.

  1. Edit the Citation Detail to explain why I concluded the information in another source is more reliable, or add a "Conclusions" source to record this, as described above in the "Some Conflicts Can be Easily Resolved" section.

  2. When all the Citations have been copied, delete the Alt Tag.

In rare cases there is truly conflicting information from credible sources that cannot be resolved. In such cases I either retain the Alt tag, or add explanatory notes in the Memo field of the regular Tag to record the conflict in the most readable form.


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