Deal­ing with same-name can­di­dates

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

This mas­ter­class deals with the com­mon prob­lem of hav­ing too many can­di­dates to choose from. How do you sep­a­rate out this John Smith from that John Smith? Un­for­tu­nately, peo­ple in the past chose first names from a more lim­ited range, so it is pos­si­ble to have three or even four men all called ‘John’ born around the same time with the same sur­name, even quite a rare sur­name, leav­ing no im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous way of pick­ing the right per­son.

If you do not have enough in­for­ma­tion to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween peo­ple, you must re­sist the temp­ta­tion to take the can­di­date with the most likely look­ing birth dates or place of birth, and put him or her into your tree with­out fur­ther thought.

You could have picked the wrong one and will now be fol­low­ing an an­ces­tor who is not yours. But, don’t de­spair, it is of­ten pos­si­ble to work out who is who with some pa­tience and dili­gent meth­ods, even when the names are very com­mon. You will need to re­search your can­di­dates in or­der to elim­i­nate them.

Civil reg­is­tra­tion

Af­ter July 1837 in Eng­land and Wales, and Jan­uary 1855 for Scot­land, it should be pos­si­ble, in the­ory, to place the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple into the cor­rect tree, re­gard­less of a com­mon name. This is be­cause civil reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cates can be checked against census in­for­ma­tion and other sources, such as parish reg­is­ters, and pro­bate records. Even though there may be many John Smiths, once you have some other fam­ily names, the pos­si­ble can­di­dates start to di­min­ish.

While there may be manny John Smiths born around the samme time, the chance that there area two with a father Thomas, mother Han­nah and sis­ter El­iz­a­beth, all in the same area, gets less.

If you find your­self in this po­si­tion, I rec­om­mend buy­ing as many birth, mar­riage and death cer­tifi­cates as you can af­fordd, as I have seen dif­fi­cult cases soolved with their bulk pur­chase. How­ever, this can be a very ex­pen­sive strat­egy. If you are cer­tain of the ex­act place of the event, a lo­cal reg­is­trar may be will­ing to check a num­ber of can­di­dates for you in their reg­is­tra­tion district and only sup­ply a cer­tifi­cate if it matches all your cri­te­ria.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Gen­eral Reg­is­ter Of­fice (GRO) now lim­its the num­ber of checks it will do in any three-year time frame and will no longer check a num­ber of ref­er­ences for a smaller fee than the cer­tifi­cate it­self costs.

Some­times the only lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion you have cov­ers a big area, but you are cer­tain of dates. Make sure you con­cen­trate on events for the cor­rect quar­ter(s) only, keep­ing lists of all pos­si­ble can­di­dates. You may still get many to choose froom, but pre­ci­sion in any known fact about the event nar­roows the field con­sid­er­ably.

In Eng­land and Wales th­here are 49 John Smith (no mmid­dle name) GRO birth rreg­is­tra­tions in the March qquar­ter of 1881 ( freebmd. When nar­rowed doown, the num­bers in any onee district drop to just three or fouur. The ma­jor­ity of John Smiths inn that quar­ter were reg­is­tered in Lan­cashire. Us­ing the lo­cal reg­is­trar’s in­dexes on UKBMD ( you can nar­row the same search fur­ther by sub-dis­tricts ( lan­­cov.php), but check cov­er­age of those lo­cal in­dexes be­fore start­ing your search, as they are not yet com­plete. There­fore, if you had an ad­dress, per­haps from the census, the sub-district in­for­ma­tion would be a great help to fo­cus in on only one or two John Smiths.

Pre-census prob­lems

When search­ing be­fore the census and civil reg­is­tra­tion, the num­ber of can­di­dates nar­rows dra­mat­i­cally as the pop­u­la­tion go­ing back­wards in time gets smaller and smaller. How­ever, the re­search prob­lems ex­pand due to there be­ing fewer sources to search.

For some­one whose dates strad­dle that pe­riod, per­haps dy­ing af­ter the 1851 census, make the most of cer­tifi­cates, census records and other avail­able sources such as me­mo­rial in­scrip­tions, burial in­for­ma­tion, and pro­bate doc­u­ments for the end of their life, to fix upon a likely year of birth and place. For those who are not recorded on any census, the sit­u­a­tion can be far more dif­fi­cult, par­tic­u­larly if they have moved into a large city.

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