Monday, August 13, 2018

Dealing with an Impasse in Research

When I come upon an impasse in a family history search I often fall back and consider possibilities.  I prefer to call it an impasse — just a little hitch in progress until I figure out the next step, the next place to search for a solution. 

First, I consider all the records I have — civil (census, birth, death, etc.), parish, undocumented family records, and any others — and ask myself
  • Have I carefully reviewed every document for every scrap of information?
  • Have I missed anything in those documents and, if so, what?
  • Did I misunderstand or misread some record or some information given to me?
  • Was any of the information I received transcribed from another document/record else and, if so, how many times had it been transcribed from the original (knowing that every transcription allows for further misinformation to be passed along)?
  • Which information that I've received might be inaccurate?  Undocumented family records are high on this list.
Next I consider the possibilities.
  • If there was a feet to register the birth to create a civil document, might the event have been registered later than it actually happened and given a date within the registration deadline?  I can imagine this could happen if the registrants didn't have money to pay the fee at the time of the event.
  • If a child was born out of wedlock, might that have prevented the baby from being baptized/christened?  If so, there would be no parish record for the event.
  • If a child was born out of wedlock, was his surname listed as the mother's maiden name, or the father's surname?
  • If the child was born out of wedlock, was the child's birth require civil registration?
  • If the parents moved (or the county boundaries moved) between the time of their marriage and the birth of any of their children, which locations would need to be checked?

My Current Impasse
I am unable to find a birth or baptismal/christening record for William Doyle. 

Andrew and Elizabeth (Laws) Doyle married on November 14, 1863, according to their U.K. GRO marriage record.  By the same record they had both been living in North Seaton and married in the parish church, Woodhorn Church (St. Mary the Virgin, according to FreeReg transcriptions), in Northumberland. 

According to family records, their first son, William, was born on March 3, 1863, in Bedlington, Northumberland, 8 months before his parents were married.   However, also according to family records, his parents married on November 11, 1861 (instead of the date given on the civil record).

Considerations and Questions regarding this family
  • Did Andrew and Elizabeth forget the actual date of their marriage or did they fudge the 1861 date so William would have appeared to have been born after they married?  I find it hard to argue with both a civil and church document that give the same date of November 14, 1863.
  • If he was born before they married, would his civil registration be as William Laws or William Doyle?
  • Where were they living when William was born?  I began with a search of Northumberland then expanded it to Durham (though all information I have suggests they did not leave Northumberland until they emigrated).
  • Did his parents even register William's birth or have him baptized/christened?  

Further Thoughts
It's unfortunate that Andrew and Elizabeth and their family appear in no U.K. Census record.  They married, had children, and emigrated between the 1861 and 1871 censuses.  They do not appear in the 1870 U.S. Census:  Andrew arrived in late 1869 but was not a citizen.  (There is a 30-year-old Andrew Doyle in Philadelphia in 1870, apparently in a boarding house.  There are no identifiers other than a name.  My Andrew would have been 34 in 1870.)  His family didn't arrive in the U.S. until October, 1870.

U.K. GRO birth registration indexes tell me the probable birth locations of William's younger siblings were Morpeth in 1864, Alnwick in 1866, and back to Morpeth in 1868.  At FreeReg I can find no indication that there were parish records of their births.  (That is not to say that there aren't any since FreeReg has not yet transcribed all parish records.)

My biggest concern is this:  Does the lack of a birth record for William Doyle negate the relationships to parents, grand-parents, etc.?  William is listed as the son of Andrew and Elizabeth in the 1880 U.S. Census.

What do you do when this happens to you?  Do you have any other search strategies?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Two William Doyles and Neither Is My Ancestor

GRO posted the birth record for William Doyle to my account on Thursday.  Sadly, it is not for my great-grandfather.  I now have two birth records for two different individuals named William Doyle, neither of which is my ancestor.  I didn't think it would be so difficult to find a birth or baptism record for someone born in the 1860s in England but my searches are proving fruitless.  Perhaps because they are based on undocumented family records -- family legends?

A few days after I ordered the birth record I anticipated it might not be the one I hoped it would be when Dara of Black Raven Genealogy reminded me that one can search the U.K. GRO website.  I find it cumbersome to use but it can serve a purpose when one becomes more familiar with it.  I searched for the record I ordered, for William Doyle, born 1863, and learned that his mother's maiden name was not Laws.  Below is the record I ordered and received.

In an effort to make both records for the births of two different babies named William Doyle available for anyone who might want them, I'm posting copies below.  I hope some other family historian in search of either of these individuals will find this post, thereby saving him/herself £6.00 (or more, if the prices go up).

This first record (the second one I ordered) comes from GRO, Year 1863, Volume 10A, Page 537.  It is for William Doyle, born March 20, 1863, in Sunderland, Monkwearmouth, Durham.  His parents were Thomas and Sarah (Johnson) Doyle.

This second record (the first I ordered) comes from GRO, Year 1861, Volume 10B, Page 60.  This William Doyle was born December 9, 1860, to Patrick and Mary Ann (Quin) Doyle, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland.

Please help yourself to this record if you are a descendant or relative of either of these two Williams. If you would like the PDF, please email me and I'll forward the document to you.

My mission to find information about the birth of William Doyle, son of Andrew and Elizabeth (Laws) Doyle, born about March 3, 1863, continues.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

By Guess and By Gosh: Choosing Between a Location and a Date

"By guess and by gosh" means doing something without careful planning.  Yet how can one carefully plan when faced with so much inaccurate information from undocumented family records?  (I'm referring to my Doyle family records which, perhaps, I should call legends.)  Family history research, by its very nature, involves a lot of decisions based on a best guess (and by gosh), especially when searching indexes and purchasing a record without being able to see all the pertinent information on it.

This post continues the saga of my search for my Doyle ancestors in England, based, as I said, on undocumented family records which gave this information for my great-grandfather:

William Doyle born at Bedlinton [sic], England - March 3, 1863

Previous research tells me that Bedlington is a city in the county of Northumberland.  I searched the U.K. birth indexes at FamilySearch and at Free BMD for a birth record for William Doyle born in Northumberland in 1863.

I did not find a record fitting that criteria.  Instead, I found William Doyle, born Newcastle, Northumberland, 1861.  Newcastle and Bedlington are close neighbors, both in Northumberland.  Considering how wrong the marriage date for William's parents was in the undocumented family records, I guessed that perhaps William's birth date could also be wrong.  I reasoned that at least the location was likely correct.

So I ordered a digital image of the birth certificate for William Doyle, born 1861, in Newcastle, Northumberland, England -- and hoped I'd chosen the right one.  The certificate comes from Year 1861, Volume 10B, page 60, line 73.

The certificate arrived within a week or so.  And this is what I saw when I looked at it.

U.K. GRO Death Certificate for William Doyle, born 1860, parents Patrick and Mary Ann (Quin) Doyle

This is a great certificate because it gives the mother's maiden name, which doesn't usually happen. But, of course, this is not my William.  My William Doyle's parents are Andrew and Elizabeth Doyle and Andrew was a coal miner.

I returned to the index to search again.  Knowing that Durham County is just south of and adjacent to Northumberland and that at one time they were combined (though they were separate counties by the time William was born), I decided to search there.  I found William Doyle, born 1863, in Sunderland, Durham, registered in the June-July-August quarter.  This could be my William.  Or not.  Except for the location, the other information in the index fits with the information I have.

I ordered the record this past Friday and am waiting for notification that it's available for viewing.  It could arrive any day or not for another week or two. 

I have to face the fact that sometimes I don't have enough information to be certain that a record I order will be for the person I hope it will.  With so many indexed records available online for free or minimal cost, it's easy to click through and look at the record and if it's wrong, move on to the next one.  But with records one can't see, it's more of a challenge.

I can only hope this most recent record I ordered is for my William.  If it isn't I'll continue my "by guess and by gosh" efforts to find birth information for him, though I have no idea where I'll look next.

These Doyle ancestors are being a bit contrary.  And they're becoming expensive, too.

How do you handle searches when the information you have may be less than accurate?  Do you ever have to choose between a location, a date, a given name, etc."  How do you make that choice?  (By guess and by gosh?)


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trying Not to Be Too Hard on Myself

I began to beat myself up when my sister-in-law noticed the incongruity of dates (or the lack of usual sequence of dates) in the marriage of my great-great-grandparents and the birth of their first son -- and I hadn't noticed it.  I think of myself as a careful researcher, not prone to adding information to my genealogy program until I'm convinced it's probably my ancestor.  But if that's true, how could I have missed this? 

A day or so later I realized that I should not have felt bad that I hadn't noticed the dates.  In fact, I transcribed the marriage record, photographed it, and posted it before I added the date, a transcription, and a citation to RootsMagic.  Which means that I had not yet fully analyzed the information nor compared it to other family information.  If I'm not looking at dates I won't see them.

I have no doubt I would have noticed the incongruity, especially since the information from my Doyle family is based primarily on undocumented family records.  I'm wary of every bit of that information and take it as "legend" but...

You have to start somewhere.  If the only information you have to begin with is undocumented family records with names, dates, and locations, that's where you start your research.  But you must be fully aware that information that comes from family should be considered hints until more information can be gathered to support (or refute) it.  In addition, memory fades.  (Forty-odd years later he asks, "Were we married in 1861 or 1862, dear?")  And there can be transcription errors at any point for a record or a memory.  The more often something written is copied, the more likely mistakes will appear. 

You need to evaluate, analyze, and compare.  How does this record fit with that one?  Does this document support (or refute) information in the other record (or in the family information)?  Either way, it's a good idea to write down your reasoning and why you think it offers support for or against another document.

You can't find every ancestor at the same time.  When I bemoan my slow progress in my family history research, I have to remind myself that I can't find all of my ancestors at the same time, let alone documents for them.  Each person gets his or her own time, own research, own documents (unless they name other family members).  I can't record all of the information at the same time, either.  One ancestor at a time, one document at a time.  There are so many possible documents and so many ancestors, too!  With 8 great-grandparents and 16 great-great-grandparents and each previous generation doubling, plus their children (if one wants to research and add the children to the family group -- and I do) it all takes time.

I guess this is a pep talk to myself (and anyone else who needs one):  Don't be too hard on yourself.  Things take time.  Be patient with yourself because you're still learning.  Be careful, be diligent, be thorough, do the math, record everything, analyze everything, and enjoy the process.

How about you?  Do you ever need to give yourself a pep talk (or a good talking to) because you've missed a piece of evidence, assumed something, or overlooked information on a document?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

FamilySearch Campaigns

Do you know about FamilySearch campaigns?  Some are helpful research tools, others are just for fun.  Below are the ones I know about.  I don't know how often they add new ones but suspect more may be coming.

Sign in to your FamilySearch account and  you'll be able to see results for your ancestors in the campaigns below.  (Bear in mind that the results are for people in "your" tree which may have ancestors others have added to the worldwide tree.)

And if you're a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and would like to take ancestors to the temple, learn who's waiting at Ancestors Awaiting Temple Ordinances,

Fun, don't you think?  Sometimes I receive notices of these via email, too.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Never Trust Undocumented Family Records

She sent an email which said,
I have [William Doyle's] birthday as 3 Mar 1863.
Andrew Doyle married Elizabeth Nov 14 1863.

It wasn't exactly a question, just two statements.  But seeing those two statements together immediately created a question in my mind.  What's wrong?  We know that marriages sometimes follow births among our ancestors so this wouldn't be extremely unusual.

But this is the problem:  I received marriage and birth dates for Andrew and Elizabeth's family from undocumented Doyle family records.  The date of marriage I was given for Andrew and Elizabeth was November 11, 1861.  Considering I have in hand a copy of their civil marriage record, that takes precedence (in my mind, at least) over the family records.

As I search the England birth registers at FamilySearch the only William Doyle I find with a birth in the 1861-1864 range was born March 3, 1861.

I remember reading that there was a fine for not registering births within a certain time period.  FamilySearch's England Civil Registration Wiki has this to say about births.
The father, mother, neighbor, or other person present at the birth must register a birth within 42 days.  The 1874 act imposed a fee for late registration (43 days to 6 months).  This penalty may have persuaded some parents to "adjust" their child's birth date to avoid paying the fee.  After six months the birth could not be registered. 

But if they were late registering his birth, it doesn't make sense that they would move the date back two years, which would make it even later.  On the other hand, if they missed the deadline completely the indexed record I found for William in 1861 may not be Andrew and Elizabeth's son.

I wondered if there was a penalty for late registration of marriages but the FamilySearch wiki gives no suggestion that there was.

The census records I've found for William (with all their inaccuracies) corroborate the 1863 birth year.  There is only one record that suggests a different year:  the passenger list with his, his mother's and his siblings' arrival in the U.S.  They travelled on the "Wisconsin," arriving in New York City on October 18, 1870.  In that record, William is listed as 8 years old.  Calculated, he would have been born in 1862.  But then Elizabeth gave her age as 28 (therefore born in 1842) but, according to other information her birth year was closer to 1845-46.

I will order William's birth record (and probably those of his siblings who were born in England) from the U.K. GRO.  I will hope that it names his parents as Andrew and Elizabeth (Laws) Doyle.

I've known from other experiences with the Doyle information passed on to me that much of it is not accurate, so it's not like this is a huge surprise.  It's just a reminder to keep searching for further documentation.  And I love a good family history mystery!

Never, ever take undocumented family records as truth.  Always, always research civil, church, and other records.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Two Wives of Andrew Doyle

I've finally collected enough information to be certain that a family "legend" is true.  Undocumented family records indicated that my great-great-grandfather Andrew Doyle was a widow at the time he married my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Laws.  Now I know it's true.

Andrew's first wife was Jane Barron.  He was 21, she was about 20 when they married.

Below is a transcription of the above marriage record which came from U.K. GRO, Year 1857, Quarter S, Volume 10B, Page 134.
Year 1857.
Marriage solemnized at the Parish Church in the Parish of St. Nicholas in the County of Northumberland
No.  136
When Married.   September 5
Names and Surnames.   Andrew Doyle   Jane Barron
Age.  full
Condition.   Bachelor   Spinster
Rank or Profession.   [miner?]
Residence at the time of Marriage.   Neville [?]
Father's Name and Surname.   William Doyle   William Barron
Rank or Profession of Father.   Miner    Miner
Married in the Parish Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church, after Banns by me, [?] Mosely.
This Marriage was solemnized between us, Andrew Doyle  Jane Barron her x mark in the presence of us, Edward Barron  J. C. [illegible name]

Jane (Barron) Doyle died on October 14, 1860.  Andrew waited just over three years before marrying again.

Andrew's second wife was Elizabeth Laws.  They married on November 14, 1863.  He was 26, she was 18.  Family legend claims that her parents were strongly opposed to the marriage because he was so much older and a widow.  Do you suppose Elizabeth was strong-willed?  Or did her parents finally relent? 

The image above, with transcription below, is from U.K. GRO Marriage Record, Year 1863, Quarter D, Volume 10B, Page 463.  FreeReg's transcription of parish records indicate that the marriage took place in St. Mary the Virgin Church.
Year. 1863
Marriage solemnized at Woodhorn Church in the Parish of Woodhorn in the County of Northumberland
No.  177
When Married.   Nov 14
Name and Surname.   Andrew Doyle   Elizabeth Laws
Age.   full age   full age
Condition.   Widower   Spinster
Rank or Profession.   Miner   ------ 
Residence at the time of Marriage.  North Seaton   North Seaton
Father's Name and Surname.   William Doyle   Robert Laws
Rank or Profession of Father.   Miner   Miner
Married in the Parish Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church, by me, after Banns by me, Rev. T. H. Ashhurst [additional unknown word]
This Marriage was solemnized between us, Andrew Doyle   Elizabeth Laws in the Presence of us, John Mitcheson   Martha Doyle

As far as I've been able to determine William and Jane did not have children.  William and Elizabeth, however, had 14 children, four of which were born in England and the others in Pennsylvania.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Handwriting in Context

Members of genealogy groups on Facebook sometimes ask for help reading a word on a document, posting only the word they can't read.  What one novice can't read, an experienced family historian may be able to decipher.  But sometimes, perhaps even often, it is only by comparing handwritten letters in different words on the same document — seeing the handwriting in context — that can one figure out what the words are.

A case in point is this marriage record I received this week.  I knew the names would be Thomas Richardson and Martha Doyle but when I saw what looked like "Thomas Bichardson" my first thought was that it was the wrong certificate.  My second thought was to look more closely and compare words.

The uppercase R, P, and B are the confusing letters in this record:  they look similar.

In this first example, below, the R in Richardson looks like a B.

But compare the B in Blythe to the Rs in Richardson and Reay, below, and one can see the difference.  Without the identifiable Blyth and without comparing the two letters I would not have identified these letters correctly if I'd been asked to index this record.

Also notice the P in Pitman.  If I saw that in another word I might have wondered if it were an L.  The letters have lots of little, extra curlicues that add beauty but not clarity.

The R words in this document are Richardson and Reay.
The P words are Pitman and Parish.
The B words are Blyth and Banns.

Because I anticipated what some of the words would be — Blyth, Pitman, Parish, Banns, and even the surnames — it was not as difficult to determine what the words were and transcribe this record as it would have been if I'd had no knowledge of the location, occupation, or surnames.

Whenever reading a handwritten document in which you don't know what the letters or words are, always look at the handwriting in context.  Use the all the words and letters, especially those you do know, to help you figure out the ones you don't know.


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Singing the Praises of the U.K.'s Government Register Office

Yes, yes, yes!   A scanned image of the original marriage record for my third great-grandmother arrived today!  While it took some time, I'm thrilled to have it and thrilled that the employees of the U.K.'s Government Register Office (GRO) are so accommodating.  Singing their praises, for sure!

To explain why I'm so pleased and excited about this record (in addition to the fact that it's for one of my ancestors), here is a review and timeline of the process for obtaining it.  You need to know the the GRO makes digital scans of birth and death records available online (with purchase) but they send marriage records through the regular post.

April 19.  I placed an order for two marriage records, one for Martha and Thomas, one for Andrew and Elizabeth. 

May 9.  The certificate for Andrew and Elizabeth arrived.  Martha and Thomas's record was not with it.  After a week I was still waiting its arrival.

May 17.  I used the GRO's contact form to tell them that Martha and Thomas's record had not yet arrived and to ask about it.

May 23.  A GRO representative responded that the certificate had been mailed on April 26 and asked that I check with my local post office to see if the envelope could be found.

June 4.  I responded that the post office had no knowledge of the envelope and asked if they could resend the marriage record.

June 11.  I received an email stating that the GRO was investigating my inquiry and that I would "receive a response in due course."

June 14.  The marriage record arrived.  Sadly, it was a typewritten transcription instead of a scan of the original record as others had been.  I was disappointed but guessed that would be the best I would get.  But it kept bothering me that one of the surnames on the transcription was different than I thought it should be.  A few days later it finally occurred to me that I could at least ask the GRO if it would be possible to get a scan of the original.

June 20.  Once again I contacted the GRO, explained my dilemma, and asked if I could have a scan of the original record.

June 26.  The GRO responded saying, "We are currently investigating your enquiry and you will receive a response in due course."

June 27 (Today!).  My response came when Martha and Thomas's marriage record arrived in the mail, as shown above.  It is a printed image of a digital scan.  And I can read it clearly!

The power of persistence pays off, but only because the employees at the U.K.'s GRO are helpful, generous people.  I am singing their praises.  Wonderful people!


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Problems with Transcriptions

Sometimes transcriptions of documents are the only option available but they always leave me wondering how accurate they are.  These are four of the obvious problems I've found:
  1. Handwriting can be hard to read leaving room for several possibilities and interpretations.
  2. Information may be omitted.
  3. Information may be mis-recorded by the transcriber.
  4. A transcriber typing the record may make typographical errors.
You may have read my previous post about a missing marriage record sent by the U.K. GRO office which did not arrive at my home.  It is for the second marriage of my widowed third great-grandmother, Martha (Reay) Doyle, to Thomas Richardson.  After I contacted the GRO office they sent another and it arrived last Thursday.  I was thrilled to see it in my mail box.

And then I opened it and this is what I saw.  (You may have to click to enlarge.)

It is a transcription instead of an image of the original.  If all the information agreed with everything I've collected for Martha to date, I might not have been concerned but it doesn't.  It gives her father's name as "William Redy" when I anticipated it would say "William Reay."  I suspect there was some uncertainty about the handwritten third letter in the name and the transcriber decided it was a "d" instead of an "a".  But I'd like to see the original myself.

When I first began working on family history I ordered county birth records from the late 1800s for my grandparents' siblings.  When they arrived they were beautifully typed.  I didn't have a clue that they were not original records.  Now that I know the difference, I always prefer an original image.

I deliberated for a few days what to do about Martha's record and finally decided to contact the GRO again and ask if they could provide an image of the original document.  I don't know what the options are because they don't upload scans of marriage records the way they do birth and death records.  And I doubt they'll want to send a third record to me.

Just this week on her Facebook page, Elizabeth Shown Mills wrote about looking at and using transcriptions versus original documents.  She recommends originals.  And I know other researchers with more experience than me recommend using originals.  If a transcription is the only option available to you be sure to note you used a transcription in your genealogy program.

I began family history research at about the time online digital images were becoming available.  What did people do before there were photocopies, microfilm, and digital images?  They must have relied on transcriptions, always hoping for accuracy, no doubt.

What have your experiences been using transcriptions?  Did you later see an image of the original and find that it was different?


Copyright ©2018, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission of the owner. 

Links to this post:
Best of the Genea-Blogs - 17 to 23 June 2018 at Genea-Musings
Friday’s Family History Finds at Empty Branches on the Family Tree 
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