Genealogy Help

The Gene Poole Self-help

Overcoming bottlenecks

We all experience bottlenecks in our research, and I hope that this helps you overcome some these problems.

Some of the most common problems are as follows:

  • People's name spelling
    This is a common problem, with spellings changing seemingly with every entry at times. This often happened as a result of illiteracy amongst the population, unable to confirm the spellings on a form, and reliant on someone knowing the correct spelling.
    Handwriting is also a problem in census forms and the earlier BMD registers, where you could misread the writing.
    If you are using the online directories, the transcribing of the original data could be at fault, so it is always useful to check the original facsimiles if at all possible. If you do find an error, please report it, it will help other genealogists.
  • People's name changes
    It is not unusual for people to change their name for any number of reasons, but the most common would be as a result of adoption (official adoption came in, in 1924, and children would often take their stepfather's name as a matter of course). This was also the case in common-law marriages.
    The most obvious reason for changing a name for many people was a fraud for some reason or another, though official records can register the old name - for example, army records often show this.
    Some people changed their names (Christian and surnames) out of admiration for the celebrities of the day - normally explorers and adventurous.

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  • Bigamy
    Yes, this was a problem, often out of ignorance. Wives could be 'sold' at a market, with the impression that the sale also nullified the marriage. Divorces were not easy to come by and expensive, so in most cases you expect one party to have died when the person remarries. If the families continue in two separate locations, alarm bells should ring.
    Bigamy was probably more of a problem then, without the complex record keeping we have today, and had more serious implications as there was no social welfare for the destitute.
  • Confused geography
    Districts and parishes did change from time to time. There are even some enclaves of a county that belonged to another county (often the neighbouring one). Registration centres needn't be in the same county, so births, marriages and deaths could look as though they were recorded in the wrong county!
    Transcription errors in the directories can also confuse the geography, so please check (and correct) the entries after viewing the originals.
  • Street names
    Streets have disappeared and been renamed in recent times, but street naming and numbering is a recent innovation in many rural areas. Landmarks may also have disappeared, so being next to the pub may no longer be relevant.
    Early census returns may not have street names or house numbers, so you may need to review a number of years to build up a picture of a place.

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  • Emigration
    Some people may disappear from the records for a number of years, and it could be that they were abroad - even just for a holiday! Remember that the census was related to a single evening every ten years, and that, often around or near Easter. Travel, however, is more likely to be an issue in 20th Century censes.
    Re-immigration can recapture a family line in subsequent data, alternatively, you may find information in the passenger lists or in different national censes.
    Emigration could also have been as a result of military service overseas, but any births, marriages or deaths should have been recorded under the 'overseas' category.
    Finally, wrongdoing in early Victorian times could lead to deportation. Deportation to the American colonies ceased with the War of Independence approx. 1783. Deportations took criminals to Australia from 1787, ending in 1868. Some criminals survived not only the voyage to Australia and the sentence there but also a voyage back to Britain. Others remained in Australia and settled down.
  • Census indexing
    If you are using the directory websites, many of the transcriptions of the censes have been done by non-British subjects (and in some cases, non-English speakers) who do not understand the geography or spellings of Britain, so misspellings and errors are commonplace, and they are being resolved - slowly.

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