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Family Tree Research When Ancestors Have Common Names

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on February 14th, 2011
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Are you having trouble finding birth records for family members who have very common names? Have you tried to figure out which ones belong to you and which don’t using the census data but just can’t be sure you have the right people?

Often, when you can’t find records for a person, it can pay to take a step
back and sort of zoom out from concentrating on the one we can’t find.

By this I am suggesting that you take a look at that person’s siblings, if they
have any of course, and identify where theses other children of the parents of your difficult forebear were born. Once you have done this, you may be able to then trace the parents back.

It is worth looking at the census records for the streets around where your ancestor lived as sometimes families occupied houses quite near to each other. Sometimes they can even be living in the same road. Maybe clues can be had from investigating these parallel lines to your direct branch in the family tree.

It could be that you will need to go and search the Parish Registers in the County Record Office, for where your ancestor came from, to see if there are any leads to be had by looking at the microfilmed copies of the parish church records.

I have found that many of my ancestors were simply called John Thorn, which is pretty common in Devon!

I was in luck getting back one generation because my 3 x great-grandfather at least had a middle name of Branton. On doing some delving I found out that this was in fact his mother’s maiden name so I could find his parent’s marriage.

But John Branton Thorn’s father was simply called John Thorn (with no middle name) and he married Sarah Branton in a city centre church in Plymouth. The records that I have seen of the Parish register do not say that he was “of that parish” and indeed omit to say from which parish he was from at all!

I have had to put him on the back burner and concentrate on other lines in my tree, until I can find the time to go to Plymouth and check the primary source of-line records in the Record Office, such as the Bishop’s Transcripts etc.

Good luck in your research into ancestors with common names.


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