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.

1841 census: AlfredGreen2

1851 census: AlfredGreen3

1861 census: AlfredGreen4And finally, his marriage entry. AlfredGreen5So, 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.

 

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

 

Occupations

I sometimes wonder at the different occupations listed in the various censuses. Not, I hasten to add, because my ancestors and their relatives had very unusual occupations. Far from it. The vast majority had the designation of agricultural labourer (commonly abbreviated to Ag. Lab) or domestic servant. That doesn’t leave much to the imagination, although it does leave open the question of the precise type of work they actually did. No. But my curiosity is often piqued by some of the other names listed on the same page as them.

For example, how about this entry from the 1841 census? I am not even sure that I can Occupations1make out exactly what the words are. Well, the first word, at any rate.; the second is clearly “weaver.” I’d like to say “stocking weaver,” but that first word looks more like “hockery” or “slockery.” “Hickory weaver” would make sense if he wove hickory into sections of fencing, but that still doesn’t look right. End result? I have no idea what this occupation is. Now, part of this is simply the difficulty of reading old scripts, but I just cannot work that one out at all.

Some other unusual occupations I have come across? Well, Schrimpschonger comes to mind – bonus points if you know what that needs without resorting to an internet search!. And, of course, there are those occupations which are different as between countries, even though they both, ostensibly, speak English. So, an American researching English ancestry may have no idea what a charwoman is. And, although fairly archaic, I would venture to suggest that just about everybody in England would know what that is.

These odd occupations can be found in many places. Baptism records, marriage records, census returns and so forth – even newspaper articles and job ads. Most are easier to read then the above example, but not necessarily any easier to understand, so here are a couple of websites to help. The first is about Victorian occupations from the 1891 census. The second is a curated list of occupations taken from the censuses between 1841 and 1911.