While working on Ancestry.com I have found that some people seem to never look at dates. I know that sometimes I too miss that very important piece of info but some don’t seem to worry about it. It is safe to assume that a woman did not give birth ten years before she, herself, was born or shortly after her seventieth birthday.
Dates also come into play when using census reports to document children. It was common in those day to find the children of a deceased man listed with the last name of their step-father. That doesn’t necessarily mean he adopted those children or changed their name. It is wise to look at the entire family group as a whole and compare dates.
Your ancestors were living in a different world than the one we live in. If a wife and mother died, the husband didn’t have much choice but to marry again right away. He would need someone to take care of his children while he worked. It was common for the man to marry his late wife’s sister. She would be someone he knew, was familiar with and loved his children. On the other hand, women rarely worked outside the home. If she lost her husband, she would have to marry again to have someone support her and her children. It is very common to find a couple marrying shortly after the death of a spouse. In many cases they combined households out of necessity.
If you find a child born only a few months before his parents marriage, it would be wise to search for another wife. In most cases you will find one and she died shortly after the child was born, most likely in childbirth. This child would then be listed on every census report as the child of the second wife. You should also keep this in mind if you find two siblings born within a few months of each other. One may be the child of the father and the other the child of the mother.
Dates can be used in many situations. For example, if a family was living in Texas on May 15, 1830, it is highly unlikely he was in Maine on May 20. It was impossible to travel that fast in the 1800’s. You also have to remember that families tended to use the same names. They would name their children after other family members. Other names are very popular and common. You may find several people with the same name.
My last tip on dates is to not put all your trust in a grave marker. It still surprises me how many people today don’t know their own parent’s date of birth. And for whatever reason, years ago families sometimes accepted a marker engraved incorrectly.
So, lay out your timeline, check and compare your dates, use common sense and NEVER assume anything.