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?)


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  1. Hi Nancy, are you aware of the government site Their birth index usually includes the mother's maiden name - or do you not know her surname? Or, is this the web-site where you are ordering the birth registers?

    1. Hi, Dara --

      Yes, U.K. GRO is the website where I've been ordering certificates.

      I have used the GRO search site before and didn't have success. Searches kept returning no results. I think maybe I was still somewhat new to family history and knew less. At the time I didn't know dates or locations, only date ranges and possible locations. But after your email today I checked again and after searching a number of different ways, I finally found several results for William Doyle, born 1863, and the certificate I think I ordered. I don't think it will be for my William Doyle whose mother's maiden name was Laws. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a certificate for a William Doyle that meets my criteria.

      I also use FamilySearch (where results sometimes show baptisms and/or births), Free BMD, and FreeReg. None have given me any hints or results for my William. My undocumented family records seem to be sketchier than I thought.

      Thanks for the suggestion to search the GRO records. I'll have to remember to use it when searching for other British ancestors.

  2. I wonder if it's worth ordering the marriage certificate for William Doyle? When I'm going backwards in time, I find the marriage certificate useful if I know both names and it can sometimes reduce the chance of ordering the wrong certificate. It should provide good details for birth and birthplace.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion, Tim. William Doyle immigrated to the U.S. in 1870 and married in 1885 in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. I have a copy of his marriage record but it does not have helpful information about his birth -- sadly! If William had stayed in England I believe the marriage record would be much more helpful. A copy of their marriage record (not a civil document), which is in very poor condition, can be seen at


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