Hutcheson Case Study
To answer my own question — not really! I mean, think about it. You were present at your own birth but the only reason you know the date is because someone told you. Yes, your birth certificate should confirm that date, but there are instances where one or both could be wrong.
An error could be present on your certificate. My own grandfather is named Charles Eugene on his birth certificate but went by Eugene Charles because that way he could be EC Jr. Your certificate could have been edited. I have a friend who was adopted and the new family had his birth date changed — making finding his real mother almost impossible. In some areas, there was a fine for registering a birth with the government beyond a certain time. Parents would report a date within the correct time frame to avoid that fine.
The date a family celebrates a birthday may be fudged a bit. If a child is born too close to a wedding date, it is possible that close family members will agree to celebrate a birthday late. If mom goes to visit relatives and gives birth there, when she returns her close friends only have her report of the date (and a big baby) to go by.
As people got older, they also had reasons to fudge dates. If a man is dating a much younger woman, he may say he is younger. If a man wants to avoid the draft, he may say he is outside of the required age. If a man wants to enlist in the military or get a job, he may say he is older. If a woman is too young to marry, she may say she is a bit older to avoid needing parent permission.
So, with Oril — what was going on? Here is yet another instance where his birth is reported:
On this certificate for his son’s birth in 1928, Oril is listed as age 45.* Born in 1883 in Colorado. I suppose that this time his wife could have been the informant — and she might not have been thinking straight. Either that or he felt odd saying he was more than ten years older than his wife.
* Arizona Department of Health Services, birth certificate no. 482 (1928), Frank Finnis Hutcheson; digital image, Arizona Genealogy Birth Certificates (http://genealogy.az.gov : accessed 18 Nov 2010).