Why Can’t I Find … Birth (1)

This series of posts will concentrate on why you may not be able to find a given person’s birth record. By that, I include not just birth certificates, but also baptism or christening records, family Bibles, and newspaper announcements of births. Only as a last resort would I accept a census record as proof of birth, not least because precise dates of birth are not given in census returns.

So, first reason you can’t find that birth? The name you know your ancestor by is not the one on the birth certificate.

Have a look at this series of entries. These all relate to my 2nd-great grandfather, but what conclusion would you reach as to his actual name? I generally accept the earliest known document as the correct name, with other names as alternates, but in this case should I put a different name? Feel free to give me feedback on this.

The earliest known record is the baptism register from 1835, where the father’s AlfredGreen1 occupation is given as a publican. And, of course, this was before civil registration began in 1837, so in terms of the date, this is as close as I am going to get.

Next, the census entries for 1841, 1851, and 1861, each of which gives a different name. I find the 1861 census to be the most interesting, given the way the enumerator went about recording the names.

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And finally, his marriage entry. AlfredGreen5

So, what conclusions would you draw about his name? Note that there are small details interwoven between the various documents, such as the occupation of his father, or the fact that his maternal grandmother is listed in the 1841 and 1851 censuses, which help to paint a more detailed picture.

Whatever conclusion you reach about this man’s correct name, I think you will agree that if I had restricted my searches to the name on the marriage certificate, I likely would not have found the other records, except maybe the baptism record.


Who Is Joseph Rogers?

Rogers1While I would like to think that I am fairly successful at family history research, that is only true in general terms. And this blog is not always going to be full of success stories. This post is a case in point. Despite more than 50 years of looking, I really don’t know anything much about this guy. So who is he? And why have I been looking for him?

Well, to put it bluntly, he is my maternal grandfather – my mother’s father. I know his name, and approximately when he was born. I have his medals card, and can therefore trace his military career (he served in the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Machine Gun Corps before re-enlisting in the Glosters). I have his marriage certificate Rogers2to my grandmother. I even have a newspaper article about a court appearance in 1925, shortly after he left her. Finally, I have his re-enlistment paper. You may think this sounds like a lot of information, but it really is very little.

It would be nice to have full access to his army records, but alas, they were destroyed by enemy action during the 2nd World War. It’s ironic, really, because my other grandfather, who I can easily trace in public records, served in a different battalion of the same regiment, and his records survived.

I don’t really know his birth date. Family tradition says 23 November 1890. His marriage certificate suggests 1890, but the re-enlistment papers give credence to the idea that he was born in November 1888, possibly in Galashiels, Selkirkshire. But there are no records to show that he was born within 5 years of those dates anywhere in the United Kingdom.

It’s as if he made everything up. Perhaps he did. And without a birth certificate I have nothing to show who his parents were. Yes, I know the marriage entry gives a father’s name, but if he lied about everything else, why would I believe that name is correct? As a result, a full quarter of my family history is unknowable. There’s always an outside possibility that DNA might help.

Always Check Originals

One of the things I stress a lot is the need to check original documents. And yes, I know that is not always possible, but it is in the vast majority of cases. There are two huge reasons for this. One is so that you have evidence to back up your findings. The other is to help your research: no matter how well you phrase your online search, you often have to rely on a transcription that somebody else made which may not be accurate.

Take my search for Henry Dodwell, for example. I had to be able to find him in the 1891 census, for example, right? Actually, that was a resounding No until I started researching his brother Walter George Dodwell. Originals1Here is the actual census entry for Henry from the 1891 census for Cheltenham. Notice that there are three people living in the household. What I want you to do is to look very carefully at the census and try to transcribe it for yourself before reading further. It’s good practise, if nothing else. Once you’ve done that, read the rest of this post.

So, how did you do? I think it reads “Henry Dodwell son married 31 Sergeant Royal Marines born Cheltenham.” Obviously I have expanded the information a little, but that is essentially what it says.

So, how did the big four family history research sites do? Not one of them got it right. I’d be hard pressed to say which one of them did the best job. Now, admittedly, it’s an old style of writing, and the age is easy to misread, but a son born when the father is only 2 years old? At any rate, here are the results, and I will leave it to you to judge for yourself. I think I might go with Ancestry if only because they are the only one to get the age right. I’m just glad I looked at the original.

Here’s Ancestry: at least they got the age right, and the place of birth, but Harvey? And no occupation in the search results.Originals2

Here’s Find My Past: right name and occupation, wrong age, and incomplete birthplace.Originals3

Here’s FamilySearch: right name, wrong age, incomplete birthplace and no occupation.Originals4

And finally, My Heritage: wrong name and age, no occupation or birthplace.Originals5