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Preponderance of Evidence

© by Felix G. Game

Anyone who is serious about genealogy knows that every stitch of information, to be considered dependable, must be proven from original sources. You know who your parents were, and most likely you also know who your grandparents were, but can you prove it? To prove your parents should be easy, although it may take a bit of running around to find a copy of your birth certificate or similar document which shows your name and your parents' names. That is proof, because all names to be linked appear on the same document. Does this constitute "proving beyond the shadow of a doubt"? No, it does not. There is still the shadow of transcription error. Almost every "certificate" we see, is really information extracted from original civic or parish registers. Human intervention opens the door for errors. Those of us who tend to be incorrigibly suspicious will go even further and worry about the original entry in those registers because they were also open to human error. Some of us who work extensively with primary sources have come across entries that were obviously in error. The bottom line in documentation is that whereas we must obtain as much of it as possible, we should never become complacent enough to disregard the possibility of a substantial error in any document (I am not thinking here about spelling differences but wrong dates and wrong persons).

There are times when no documents are available, and there are times when there are more of them available than we can digest. It can happen that documents provide choices we do not welcome and do not know how to make. Thorough, logical and systematic examination is required to sort these out. People who hire a professional genealogist expect to be able to accept all his findings without reservation. However, in their research reports, professionals will occasionally use the phrase "preponderance of evidence". This means that no hard proof could be found for establishing a link but that other factors have allowed a conclusion to be reached. A professional will use this phrase cautiously, knowing full well that he is putting his reputation on the line. As an illustration of how supporting evidence may be used, I will present an actual problem from a Hungarian village.

Problem: Two girls; same age, same name, same village. Which one did he marry?

On 26 Nov 1888 Farsang Márton (23) married Kerkuska Rozália (19). Witnesses to the marriage were Kovács Imre and Glotz János. At the same point in time there were two girls in the village named Kerkuska Rozália of almost exactly the same age. The entry of the marriage does not name the parents.

Rózsi-1 was born 9 Jul 1868 to Kerkuska József and Domak Erzsébet, and was sponsored by Lukács Károly and Nagy Anna.

Rózsi-2 was born 20 Aug 1869 to Kerkuska László and Kuhinkó Rozália, and was sponsored by Miller András and Kovács Anna.

Analysis of available information, and Solution:

Márton and Rozália went on to have nine children named Julianna, Eszter, Károly, Erzsébeth, András, Katalin, Mária, Karolin and Gizella. All of these children were sponsored by Kovács Gyula and Kis Erzsébet.

The couple's first child Julianna married Kovács György.

Márton's YOB (year of birth) was computed from his date of marriage and age at that time, and his birth record was found. His mother's name was Kovács Katalin, and his Godmother was another Kovats [sic] Katalin.

It is a seldom ignored tradition in the village that the male sponsor at one's baptism (keresztapa) will be asked to be one of the witnesses at one's marriage. If he is unable to accept, the female sponsor's family is next in line for the honor, and may provide a male witness.

According to tradition then, one name among the four sponsors at the baptisms of the two Rózsis should show up as a witness at this marriage. And in fact, one of the witnesses was Kovács Imre, pointing squarely at Kovács Anna, who was one of the sponsors for Rózsi-2.

The groom's mother's maiden name was Kovács, his first daughter married a Kovács. There was evidently a strong connection between the groom's family and the Kovács family.

What we have found is that the name Kovács is a valid link to Rózsa-2, and that no factors were found to be pointing to Rózsa-1.

I am now prepared to state that "upon preponderance of evidence" I am satisfied that Farsang Márton (b.1 Jan 1864), son of Farsang Ignác and Kovács Katalin married Kerkuska Rozália (b. 20 Aug 1869) daughter of Kerkuska László and Kuhinkó Rozália. And I list the following supporting reasons:

1. No information was encountered that provides even the slightest link to Kerkuska Rozália (b. 9 Jul 1868) daughter of Kerkuska József and Domak Erzsébet.

2. Following village tradition, the name of one of the witnesses at the marriage (Kovács Imre) correlates with one of the sponsors (Kovács Anna) at the baptism of Kerkuska Rozália (b. 20 Aug 1869), and a link between the Farsang, Kerkuska and Kovács families can be demonstrated by the following:

The groom's mother's maiden name is Kovács.

The groom's godmother was Kováts [sic] Katalin.

The bride's godmother was Kovács Anna.

One of the witnesses at their marriage was Kovács Imre.

The couple's nine children were sponsored by Kovács Gyula, Márton's koma (buddy, who will be his children's godfather).

Their first daughter married Kovács György, and one of the witnesses was Kovács Gyula.

Márton and Rozália acted as sponsors for the children of Kovács Gyula and Kis Erzsébet (Márton was Gyula's koma).

This case history demonstrates that although no document was ever found which links the bride at the same time to her parents and to her husband, preponderance of other, available evidence allowed me to choose with confidence between the two Kerkuska Rozálias.

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