Question: I have conflicting information on my grandfather's birth date and place of birth. His son's birth certificate says grandfather was born in St. Paul, Minn., on Nov. 25, 1887 or 1888, but grandpa's death certificate says Wisconsin, and his marriage license says Royalton, Minn. I have been unable to obtain a birth certificate for him from Minnesota or Wisconsin.
How can I document his birth and determine which information is correct?
Answer: Your genealogical research problem is typical of many encountered. Before 1900 there are few state birth records available, and you must learn to weigh the evidence of each document.
Death certificates usually were completed with information provided by family members. Their knowledge of the deceased's birth date and place is secondary evidence and may not be accurate. For example, the birth certificate information may have been given by the daughter-in-law, and may not be correct. On the other hand, the information on the marriage license was probably provided by the individual, and most likely is correct.
Check the 1900 census of Minnesota. Your grandfather would have been a 12- or 13-year-old boy at that time and probably was enumerated with his parents. Use the 1900 Soundex (an index to the 1900 census) wherein your James family will be Soundexed as J520. The National Archives film number you need is T-1053, Roll 75. It is available at the National Archives and its 11 regional branches, through interlibrary loan at many public libraries, and from Salt Lake City's Family History Library.
After you locate your ancestors in the 1900 Soundex, read the actual 1900 Census, which will provide you with important information about your grandfather, his siblings and parents. While it will not give the exact birth date, it does give the month and year of birth.
Myra Gormley welcomes genealogical questions for her column, but is unable to answer individual letters. For her beginner's how-to genealogy kit (with charts) send $4 to Kit, Box 64316, Tacoma, Wash. 98464.