Missing Ancestors

While researching your ancestry, you will almost certainly reach a dead end at some point in time. Don’t worry, you really shouldn’t need a professional genealogist, or family tree researcher. With some inspired family history detective work and a lot of patience, you will be able to solve the puzzle.

For me, this dead end moment came when I found a nineteenth century death record for one of my ancestors giving his age at time of death, but then no apparent corresponding eighteenth century baptism in that parish or the neighboring parishes . So I had his marriage and his death, but not his birth. This isn’t an uncommon problem, so take comfort in the fact that many have found themselves with this dilemma before you!

I hunted high and low through all the physical records that I could find, this being a little while before the internet became established as a viable research and reference tool. The problem was the number of variables – dates that were within three or four years that might have looked promising, but then the locations didn’t. On top of this, it wasn’t unknown for baptisms to be somewhat delayed, or not to have happened at all. But then again, up to around the middle of the nineteenth century, baptisms were carried out very soon after birth because of the high rate of infant mortality.

Yet another complication was the proximity of another potential source to search. A town some 15 miles away from the village that I’d been searching, had several families bearing my surname. I say proximity, but of course 15 miles in those days (late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) was a considerable distance, especially in rural areas, but was by no means out of the question for some. Farmers, pedlars and itinerant traders especially would make those sort of journeys to markets and they would also be prepared to travel those distances to the annual fairs that were described so wonderfully by Thomas Hardy in his novels. I tried to find a link between the village parish where I’d expected to find the birth/baptism, and the town that had a very promising, potentially matching baptism record, but any

Here’s where I make a suggestion that could help you if you too have reached a dead end and are unable to make a breakthrough. Don’t try to do it alone! Join forums, look for family history societies in the area that you’re searching and leave messages on their websites. Do a surname search and find indexes published by individuals or family history websites. Post messages to those websites and on relevant forums. This was how I eventually solved the whereabouts of my ‘lost ancestor’.

A common mistake of those just starting out is to ignore alternative spellings of surnames, especially if the surname is uncommon in the first place. The logic for this is, if the surname’s unusual, it’s less likely to be misspelled because the ‘owner’ will take the trouble to make sure it is spelled and recorded properly. But this isn’t the case. A great many people in those times were illiterate to a degree, and if you add to this the scenario of a hard of hearing (or even inebriated, or both) clergyman (for example) trying to understand the mumblings of a young and less than verbose rural laborer, then you begin to understand how mistakes were made. You may also add to this the fact that if the source of this particular line of your research is Bishops Transcripts (BT’s), then be aware that those hand written copies of hand written parish registers are well known for inaccuracies.

I posted a query on a family history forum and eventually a respondent popped up and gave me the name and email address of another person who was researching that surname in that area. I corresponded by email with this person several times and we swapped our research, theories and ideas about this lost ancestor and dead end. Only relatively recently she was able to prove (beyond reasonable doubt) this individual’s place of baptism as well as an almost certain link between the village parish and the not too distant town parish. It turned out that the problem was a surname misspelling, and she was able to demonstrate from existing records, that this had in fact, been the problem all along.

A remarkable piece of detective work.