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.


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