TIPS FOR PROVING ANCESTRY IN GENEALOGY RESEARCH
These are adapted from tips given at an evening class taught by the late Roger
Trunkfield at Wilmslow Guild in Cheshire, England.
If you have traced your family back as far as about 1840 using General Registration,
you need to be as confident as possible about your work before going back to
the 18th century.
- 1. When looking for a birth or baptism before 1837, examine as many sources
of potential birth dates as you can, based on the ages given in census returns,
on death or burial records, on monumental inscriptions and on marriage certificates.
Do not be surprised if these various sources are not in full agreement as
people often misreported their ages on marriage, were forgetful, had no written
records in their home etc. Monumental inscriptions would be devised by the
relatives not by the deceased.
- 2. Try to confirm the birth year with at least 2 census returns. The 1841
census rounded ages down to the nearest multiple of 5 so ideally one would
use the 1851 and 1861 returns. Using two sets of records also gives a better
chance of finding the PLACE of birth. The 1841 census indicated only that
birth was in or outside the county.
- 3. Once you have formed an estimate of the birth year, consider baptism
records at least two years on either side. It is not unknown for people to
be baptised at the age of 20. If you have only one date to rely on for the
birth then search five years on either side for the event.
- 4. While searching census records, extend the search as far as reasonably
practicable for that area. With the census available on sites such as Ancestry it becomes easier to find all the people fo that surname resident in a given area. However, be wary of the poor quality of transcription that can cause records to be under an unexpected variant of the surname. This helps to find additional
ancestors and provides information that may help you to identify other branches
of the family and identify other families with the same name who may need to be considered for elimination purposes when assembling baptism, marriage and burial records..
- 5. If you have a date for a marriage but no ages, it is best to search
for the baptism of the bride and groom in the period from 16 to 40 years before
the marriage. Remember that many people died young and in particular many
women died giving birth or shortly afterwards. Widowers often remarried, sometimes
to women who were some years younger than themselves so don't expect all newly
weds to be in their early 20s. In the middle of the 19th century 15% of all marriages were a second marriage for at least one of the couple.
- 6. If your only information about a man is the birth of his children, subtract
16 from the date of the first born child and 70 from the birth of the last
known child and search the period between for his birth or baptism. For a
woman allow that the first child could have been born when she was only 16
and last child when she was 50. If a woman is known to have had only one child
then it unlikely that she had it much after the age of 40.
- 7. Do not restrict your searches to one parish; search several around the
district. If there are no ADDITIONAL records for a baptism for a person with
the name that you seek, it strengthens the case that you have found the correct
person. Do not seize on the first one you find, it may be the wrong one! Families
did not necessarily remain in the same parish and we tend to underestimate
how mobile people could be, particularly during wars, and with the coming
of the canals, turnpikes and railways.
- 8. Once you have found a baptism record that could fit with the one that
you seek, search the burial records to make sure that the child survived.
If possible, search the burial register up to the year of the marriage of
the individual. If the registers are very large and you are unable to do this
at one attempt, then try to check for at least ten years after the birth or
baptism, as children were more likely to die in their first few years. I have
consulted the bills of mortality published in the "The Gentleman's Magazine"
for 1760 and 1827. The magazine gave an analysis of deaths by age for the
parishes within the City of London. In both 1760 and 1827, half of all deaths
were people under 20. Infant mortality was commonly higher in the towns than
the countryside and during the 19th century the infant mortality rate (number
of children dying in the first year of life) remained steady at about 17%.
- 9. It is very common to find that there is more than one person with the
name that you seek, baptised in a given area in your search period. This can
occur even if the surname is not that common. For example, two brothers may
both name a son after their father so you have two cousins born within a few
years of each other with the same Christian name. To determine which one is
your ancestor, try to eliminate candidates by checking if they survived to
adulthood by using the burial register in the parish of birth and the adjacent
parishes. Secondly, try to find marriages for the various individuals in their
parish of birth or in neighbouring ones. (Couples usually married in the home
parish of the bride.) The dates of the marriages may help sort out the various
candidates, for example if one would have been under age at the date of a
marriage. Don't forget that marriages by Licence are the most interesting
as you may be able to find the marriage bond and allegation at the appropriate
county or diocesan record office. These can give details of the ages of the bride and groom and
the names of relatives. For marriages after 1754, the names of the witnesses
may give clues to family connections.
- 10. Consider the possibility of Nonconformism. It is not unknown for families
to baptise some of their children in the Anglican church and some in a Nonconformist
chapel. Do not assume that all your ancestors belonged to the same denomination.
There are many Nonconformist denominations such as Baptists, Wesleyan and Primitive
Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Calvinists, Quakers
and Roman Catholics. I have come across cases where a couple moved from the
Church of England to a Nonconformist chapel, and then had their children baptised
a second time in the new denomination.
- 11. If you have examined the parish registers and are happy with what you
have found, check the entry against the bishop's transcripts for the same
event. There may be additional details of locations, ages or occupations.
- 12. A child born out of wedlock will commonly be baptised under its mother's
maiden name. Check the baptism registers for the years prior to the marriage
for children named after the mother. If the parents then marry one commonly
finds that the illegitimate child assumes the father's name. I have come across
examples of this even after 1837, where the child had been registered with
the mother's surname but assumed the father's surname by the time of the next
This article has been published on the web site of 50connect.co.uk
in the genealogy section where you can find many useful articles on how to
get started and how to do genealogical research.
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