When researching a family member, we rely on primary and secondary sources of information. Primary sources, such as marriage certificates, are usually the most reliable – but not always. When looking at my parents’ marriage certificate, I discovered that sometimes personal knowledge can be the most reliable source of all.

My father’s name was listed on his marriage certificate as the name he was known by, which wasn’t his birth name (he didn’t legally change his name until 13 years later when a new job required it).  Additionally, his step-father was listed as his father on the certificate. Taken at face value, this could have complicated and slowed down any search for his birth (especially as mother’s aren’t listed on marriage certificates) and may have led to his step-father’s family being incorrectly added to the family tree.

Finding these errors on my parents’ marriage certificate has made me reassess one of my brick walls (although I think in that case it may be more of a hindrance than a help, time will tell).