It’s a pet peeve of mine that computer-managed missing persons databases tend to, whenever the MP’s date of disappearance or date of birth is not known, say “January 1.” Several MP databases I can think of do this. I thought of it today when I updated an MP’s casefile. A database entry I found for her gave her date of birth as January 1, and it was with reluctance that I put the date on her Charley Project casefile, because I have no way of knowing whether her birthday was really January 1 or whether they just don’t know and used the default date. That’s true with so many similar cases. It’s especially trying when I have no details of disappearance to work off of and make a tentative date, a month, a season.
If the details are available, sometimes they tell me the MP almost certainly didn’t disappear on January 1. I remember one MP was last seen going to a doctor’s appointment, supposedly on January 1. Uh, no. Doctors and hospitals don’t schedule appointments for New Years’ Day. A few walk-in clinics might be open, and the ER will be, but no one’s going to have an outpatient appointment on that day.
Let’s say Bob Smith disappeared sometime in 1980 and the exact date isn’t known so, years down the line, he gets listed as missing since January 1, 1980. Further suppose Bob’s body turned up in September 1980 as a John Doe, and the coroner estimated he’d been dead for about three months. In 2015 you’re comparing missing persons to unidentified bodies, and at first glance Bob is not going to be on the list of possibles for that John Doe because he’s listed as missing since January and your John Doe died around June. This isn’t going to render the Doe’s eventual identification impossible, but it will hinder it.
I don’t know much about computer programs but it seems like they should be able to have a default setting of “unknown” for a birthdate or date of disappearance, rather than a particular default date which has only a one in 365 chance of being right.