My father was born on Dec. 8, 1902 at Alvaton, Ky., just outside of Bowling Green, the oldest boy and third child of six. At least that was what he said throughout the years I knew him. His sister, Virginia Harman, the second born sibling, attested that Dad was born in 1899. Aunt Ginny, as she was known to us, was the family genealogist and I trusted her word on the matter.
I always believed Dad changed his birth date when he married my mother who was 21 years younger than he. Instead, it seems he moved it ahead one year at a time much later. These changes helped him later when he was forced to retire as a school teacher at his stated age of 70 - or 72 according to Aunt Ginny's calculations.
When Dad died in 1986, my sister, Sylvia, sent my Uncle Joe, Dad's youngest brother and only living sibling, a funeral home memory card that placed his birth in 1899. Uncle Joe was adamant that Dad's real birthdate was 1900. This whole controversy arose again recently while Sylvia was reviewing correspondence from Uncle Joe and copies of the Round Robin, a series of letters passed around among Dad's siblings and their descendants starting as far back as the 1930s. She also found conflicting comments from Aunt Ginny that indicated Dad was born in 1900, which agreed with Uncle Joe.
With evidence of agreement between Aunt Ginny and Uncle Joe, my brothers, Joe and Jack, and Sylvia became convinced that 1900 was the correct birth date. I, on the other hand, needed more proof.
Having spent her career as a librarian, Sylvia went to work to find more official documentation of Dad's birth. She discovered that Kentucky birth certificates before 1911 are not searchable and were not even consistently produced in those days. Undeterred, she wrote to the Kentucky Historical Society for the elusive birth certificate. One could not be found. However, a draft registration for World War I dated in September of 1918 was located. It definitely had Dad's handwriting on it along with the birth date of Dec. 8, 1899. With this new information, we all had closure.
This may seem to be much ado about a small matter, but it was important to us. Each day facts are presented to us about various things and issues. Some we take on face value because they are not important to us. Others we question and research for validation because of their potential impact. Leaders rely on measurement and data. When data is conflicting, more data and observations are gathered. Tom Peters often said, "What gets measured gets done." If you are not doing it already, identify your key processes and invent a way of measuring them reliably. Remember different people can have opposing data for the same issue. Sometimes it pays to dig deeper.
R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray's new book, "Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons," visit his Web site www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.