I was reviewing a problem ancestor in my family tree this week and thought my notepad jottings may help others.
I am looking for a female ancestor who was born before the introduction of civil registration in 1837. According to every census, that she was enumerated within, her birth date was 1806, give or take a year. The place of birth remained consistent as Bigbury in Devon. The problem is that she does not appear in the Bigbury parish register for baptisms for 1806, nor for the years either side. There is someone with her Christian name in the registers, however by following this woman through to her marriage and death I have ruled her out.
This being the case I have to consider reasons why I can’t find my ancestor and so I noted down on a pad the scenarios that I needed to explore.
1. Was my ancestor disguising her age in the census to appear closer in years to her husband? – If so I need to expand my search for her using a larger range of years.
2. Was her maiden surname different from what I had discovered from a transcript of her marriage? Perhaps the name I was searching for was from a previous marriage? – To find this out I needed to see an image of the parish register and read whether it said Spinster or Widow at the time of her wedding.
3. Was she mistaken about being born in Bigbury? Perhaps she grew up there and assumed that it was where she had been born? – I needed to search the Bigbury parish register to see if any other family members with her surname were baptised, married or buried there.
4. Has the Bishop’s transcripts survived in the Diocesan Archive? – Sometimes entries may appear in the BTs that are missing from the actual parish register.
5. Was she from a non-conformist family and been baptised by a minister of another denomination other than the Established Church? – A search of the non-conformist registers may turn up my elusive ancestor, though not all of them were surrendered and so the collection at The National Archives is not complete. Some may be in the Devon Heritage Centre (County Record Office) while others are lost.
6. Could I find any siblings in the Bigbury area? – Searching first for baptisms, then marriages and burials. In this case I found her as a witness to a marriage of a woman with the same surname. Perhaps her sister, or a cousin. But it does establish a link to Bigbury.
7. Did she appear in anyone else’s published family tree? – Though they are notoriously inaccurate family trees that are published online may give you clues to go and research for yourself and confirm the accuracy of the information in the tree.
8. Does anyone seem to share the DNA with me from that area or from an ancestor with that surname? – Look for a distant cousin that has entered the information about their ancestors to a linked family tree on a family history DNA website.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start to breaking down a brick wall.
How far have I got? Not as far as I’d like, as so many other things have got in the way of my research this week!