Geoffs Genealogy Update 1 September 2014

Sunday August 31st, 2014 | Geoff

For the first time in ages I did not write a blog entry in August, as (unusually for me!) I really did not have anything to write about. I am fortunate enough to have been away on holiday several times over the summer, so have not had time to fit in any family history of late.

In the time as I have had available for treeing I have been reviewing my records relating to people on my mother’s line, and seeking to update them where I can. I am sure you will agree with me that researching our more recent forebears is often more difficult than finding out about people who feature further back in our family trees. This is because the most recent census that is available to us is dated 1911, and most available parish registers finish either in or before the first third of the 20th century. It is not easy to find sources to trace more recent ancestors, so what do we use?

In terms of online records there are some options, one of the main ones being the Civil Registration Indexes for Births, Marriages and Deaths. These are available up to the early years of this century, and are very useful. There are problems relating to these indexes, as often it is not easy to be sure that you have the right entry.

For instance, for many years I have been seeking the death entry for my great grandfather, James William Smith (b 1853). Information about James  is fairly hard to obtain. I found his birth in Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire in 1853,  his baptism five years later in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire and his marriage in 1876 at Bethnal Green, London. I have also traced him in London on all the available censuses up to 1901, but try as I may I have not been able to trace him or other members of his family on the 1911 census.  My last sighting of him was in 1903, at his daughter’s wedding.  Of course, the whole could all have been dead by 1911, but I think that unlikely.

I wouyld very much like to trace James’s death, so decided to have another go at that. Have you ever tried to search the Deaths indexes for a James W Smith in the Shoreditch area of London? I can assure you that it is a very difficult task. There are so many people of that name listed, how to know which one is my ancestor?

In reviewing the information in my records the other week I found a note that my late aunt told me that she believed that James died of cancer in 1914. Of course, she may have been wrong, but I decided to base my search on this, and came up with a viable candidate:

1914   James W Smith    Hackney Reg District   Age 59   Sept Qtr   Vol 1  Page 399

I saw that the age of the deceased did not tie up to that of my ancestor, but ages are often mis-stated in sources, so I did not see that as being necessarily correct. Only one way to find out whether this was my man, so I took the plunge and ordered the certificate.

Alas, when the document arrived I found that it related to a James Wm Smith who had been a police constable – definitely not my ancestor!. Not a great surprise, but a waste of £9.25.

This is the second time I have paid for the wrong certificate when searching for James’s death, and I could repeat the exercise a hundred times or more without hitting on the correct entry. It really is about time that we in England and Wales had the facility to see more information about an individual before ordering a certificate. Peter Calver of Lost Cousins has been campaigning on this issue, and I think he is absolutely spot on in identifying this as being of great importance. Apart from anything else, I for one can’t afford to spend innumerable sums of £9.25 on a hunch, so am very cagey about ordering certificates. Sometimes, as in this case, my reluctance in this regard means that I am not able to resolve outstanding research issues, but I’m afraid that is how it has to be.


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