Saturday, March 27, 2021

Brought Up Short When Transcribing Martha (Reay) Doyle's and Thomas Richardson's Marriage Record

There was a discussion on a genealogy Facebook group questioning the purpose of transcribing documents. One person said she pulled out the relevant information/facts and was finished.  I cannot agree with that method.   When I transcribe a record I write every word, pouring over the document, going over it with a fine tooth comb, pulling out the relevant facts, examining every aspect of it, asking questions along the way.  And then, if I have them, I pull out other documents to compare the information.  This post describes how and why that works for me.

I've posted about this marriage record for Martha (Reay) Doyle and Thomas Richardson before but it wasn't until a few days ago that I sat down to transcribe it, going over it with that proverbial fine tooth come.  That's when I was brought up short.  What?!  That's when I saw what I'd missed by not transcribing every word.
This is the obvious, pertinent information that I originally noticed:
  • Martha Doyle married Thomas Richardson on June 17, 1848 in the Parish Church in Earsdon, Northumberland.  (That would have been St. Alban's.)
  • She was a widow, he was a widower.
  • The both lived in South Blythe at the time of their marriage. 
  • Both fathers are named.
  • The witnesses are named but have no meaning for me, as far as friends, associates, or neighbors.

Martha's father's name, William Reay, is the one I missed before I transcribed this record.  No, it's not right!

I have an 1810 Wallsend, Northumberland, baptismal record for Martha with her parents' names on it.  (This comes from FHL Film #85029, Wallsend Vol. VI Baptism Records, image 677, register page 111.)  
This baptismal record tells me that Martha's parents names are
  • Robert Reay of Walls End, Pitman, [of or born in?] Houghton, and
  • Mary late Bell, [of] N of Painshaw

"William Reay" of the marriage document sounds painfully familiar, a combination of her deceased husband's first name and her father's last name.  Was she nervous?  Was she missing William, perhaps having second thoughts?  I could just accept the name as a small mistake but I really wanted more confirmation of the marriage between Martha Doyle and Thomas Richardson.

Martha became a widow in 1838.  In the 1841 census she appears with only her children.  In the 1851 census she is recorded as the wife of Thomas Richardson, who is enumerated with his own children and four of Martha's children (who were on the 1841 census).  I searched FreeBMD for marriages between the years 1841 and 1850 and found no other Martha Doyle and Thomas Richardson than the one in this marriage document.  FreeReg showed no results for Martha Doyle or Martha Reay.

I don't know any other way of verifying this information and so I am concluding that Martha misspoke when she gave her father's name as William Reay in 1848 and that my great-great-great-grandmother, Martha Reay Doyle did, indeed, marry Thomas Richardson on June 17, 1848.

Can absence of information be considered valid for genealogy documentation?

Considering the Possibilities
  • Could the baptismal record have the father's name wrong?  Perhaps I need to find some other document with confirmation of Martha's father's name.  Martha's first marriage, to William Doyle was in 1825, years before civil registration, so no help there, and so the only document available is their parish marriage record which did not ask for parents' names. 
  • Might it be possible to find any of Martha's siblings whose documents would name their father?  Perhaps a brother or sister married after civil registration began.  Or there may be parish registers.  Martha was already married by 1831 when the first census was taken, but if she had younger siblings they would probably be on that first census and probably subsequent ones, as well.    How would I know them if I found them?
  • I could search all English civil marriages, every county, but it's hard for me to believe Martha, a widow, would have moved her family of five children to another county, far from the area where she grew up and the likely support of nearby family.

I believe this search will take some time!

Do you transcribe documents?  If you do, do you ever find surprises or anything that you would have missed if you didn't?


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  1. I agree 100 percent. As research continues it's likely new information will shed light on seemingly unimportant details in a record. I can't tell you how many times I've gone back and found pertinent information in a record I missed the first go round.

    1. So true, Ellie. When we begin have have a little information. Later, after more research, we can see how the newer research relates to the earlier.

  2. It could also have been the mistake of the registrar. I have one example in my family tree where my third-great-uncle's marriage register has the incorrect name for his father. There is absolutely no doubt it's the correct record. My 4th cousin (his direct descendant) agrees with me - we hypothesize that the registrar took down the name incorrectly as opposed to William giving the wrong name when asked. Can easily happen. Just another possibility.

    NOT that I think you shouldn't take the other steps as outlined...reasonably exhaustive research requires it.

    1. I'm glad to learn that you've had a similar experience with an incorrect name. I hadn't thought about the registrar made a mistake but it seems very possible in my case. I've searched other possibilities for Martha's father but have come up with nothing. I'll make a note about the differences in her father's name and keep an eye out. Thanks for leaving a comment, Teresa.

  3. Those name mix-ups make me crazy. I have one death certificate for a woman whose son was the informant. In the boxes asking for the names of father and mother, he gave HIS father and mother rather than his mother's parents. So it looks like she was her own mother. In another, the informant gave the correct father of the deceased but the name for the mother was actually the grandmother. It is indeed important to compare information with other documents. Marriage records are typically more reliable because the person gave their own information.

    1. Oh, me, too, Wendy. I have a certificate like you describe. I was really confused because I was new to family history. I finally figured out what happened.
      Teresa, above, suggested it might have been a registrar's error. I know marriage records would likely be more accurate than death records but I was thinking that Martha's baptismal record would be more accurate for her parents' names since they would have been the ones initiating the baptism. My additional searches for Martha with a father named William have come up empty so far. Thanks for leaving a comment.


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