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 old – 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.