Old Roots Genealogy

Family & Social History

Category: Guides

Unreliable Documents

Sometimes even primary sources of genealogy information are incorrect. The misleading information they contain, rather than helping you through a brick wall, can simply add more layers to the wall. Let me give you an example from my family tree.

One of my ancestors was named Harold John Evans(1) . His marriage certificate lists his father as Alec Evans, a waiter, and Harold’s age as 29 years oldĀ  – so we roughly know his year of birth. A BMD search brings up 1 birth for Harold Evans and 43 births for John Evans around the correct time (assuming the age on the marriage certificate is accurate of course). Three of the John Evans births were in the same county as the marriage, but can we be sure he was born in the same county he married (there is no census data available to check this). The Harold Evans birth was in a different part of the England, maybe he moved. If you research Alec Evans you will discover that he came from Edinburgh, perhaps his son was born there? And of course there is the name – there are no births around the time indicated by the age on the marriage certificate for a Harold John Evans.

We try moving onto the parents to narrow it down a little. Where did they marry? There are two marriage’s for an Alec Evans 5 years either side of the estimated birth of his son, one of these (to a Winifred Watts) is in the same county as the son’s marriage. We could assume that is him, although none of the births we found earlier have the mother’s maiden name as Watts.

So what now? It is of course very possible that Alec married Harold’s mother 10 or 20 years before his birth, or that they married after his birth (if they married at all). Perhaps Harold’s birth is missing from the BMD records. Maybe Harold was born overseas? Maybe Harold’s age is wrong on his marriage certificate? Now this is all starting to get a little confusing. We need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

The truth is simple if you have personal knowledge of the family. The marriage certificate is incorrect. Alec Evans was not Harold John Evans’s father. The marriage we found between Alec Evans and Winifred Watts is the correct one and Winifred was Harold’s mother. She never revealed who his father was, but it was not Alec (who she met 2 years after her son’s birth). Harold’s birth name was Harold John Watts – his birth record is now easy to find, and from that we can carry on tracing the tree backwards. But without that personal knowledge of the family story, it would have been a lot more difficult to locate Harold’s birth.

1. names have been changed for no real reason.

1939 Register

The 1939 Register is a snapshot of live in England and Wales at the beginning of World War II. It was taken on Friday, 29th September, under the National Registration Act of 1939, an Act of Parliament introduced as an emergency measure at the beginning of World War II. The Act also brought in identity cards which had to be carried at all times. It was repealed in 1952 after which it was no longer a requirement to carry identity cards in the UK.

Example of the 1939 Register

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Census Guide for UK & Ireland

In the United Kingdom, a census of the population has been taken every 10 years since 1801, with the exception of 1941 (although a similar register was taken on 29 September 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war).
In Ireland, the census was taken along with the UK census until 1911. No census was taken in Ireland in 1921 because of the Civil War. The first census taken by the Irish government was in 1926.

Census records are released to the public a hundred years after they were taken, meaning the latest census we can view is 1911 (although the 1939 Register is also available for England and Wales). The next full UK census released will be the 1921 census, which is due to be published on 1 January 2022 (though there is growing pressure for it to be released earlier). The next Irish census released will be in January 2027.

Blank 1911 census

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