So a few days ago I was really excited because I thought that I found a record of my great, great, great grandfather and he was a prisoner of war during the Civil War. I wasn't excited because he was captured and most likely tortured or killed. No, I was excited because it was more information on the man himself. I ran to tell my father and the first question he asked me was if I was sure it was the correct person. This killed my buzz because of course I wasn't sure. I have never met the man. If my great grandmother could cook, if my grandmother could sew, if my mother had a weird sense of humor; these are the things I'm sure about. That there are Native American roots on my mother's side and a strong military presence on my father's; these are the things that I'm sure about. But if a name that I found on a U.S. census in 1880 is the correct person just because he has a child with the same name as my great, great grandfather who happened to be born around the same time; not a clue.
It accured to me then that to go as far back as you can is going to require a little faith. There is going to be no way that I will or he will or any of us will be one hundred percent sure that the person we are look at is the correct relative. Names have changed and documents get smudged. I found my great, great grandmother on a 1910 census as Carrie when we had always called her grandma Cassie and looking at it I could see how it could be either one. So does that mean that I throw that census out and start again looking for Cassie. Absolutely not. That census had the correct husband for her and children listed as well as the correct area of the United States. That's almost like finding the triffecta; the holy grail. I just keep that one and look for a 1900 or 1920 census with the correct name or the misspelled one because that could be a clue as to why I wasn't finding any information on her originally.
Yes, it would be great to be sure that every relative you think you found is the right one but unforunately with the way that records were kept, especially if you were African-American, it just isn't possible. And lets face it, even if the records were maticulous when your looking in 1860 for someone that no one still alive remembers it's a guessing game. Does the names match up with what you have aready found out about their decendent? Do the dates line up within a five year grace period? Are they living in the correct state? Do they have the right siblings or parents? If you answered yes to all those questions then chances are you have the right person but are you a hundred percent sure? That is a question only you can answer but I would bet you answer with a little faith.