Your ideas, comments and advice
Your 17 Ways to Search Like an Expert feature in the September issue mentioned vaccination records and this reminded me of something I have come across in my research. When I started on my husband’s family history some years ago, I hit a brick wall almost straight away when I couldn’t find a birth certificate for his grandfather.
Over the years I tried every variation of our surname including mis-transcriptions such as Mays and Keys. But I had his death certificate with his date and place of birth so I trawled the Bethnal Green 1891 census at my local Family History Centre, as this was before the days of the censuses being online. Eventually I found my husband’s grandfather’s family with his four siblings. Of the five children I only found births had been registered for the first two. A sixth child appeared with the release of the 1901 census and guess what? No birth registration for her either.
Had just one child not been registered I would have put it down to a mistake but to have a total of four children out of six unrecorded, there had to be a reason as it appears that their parents decided to stop registering them after the first two children. It was then that I came across the National Anti-Vaccination League. The reports in William Tebb’s Compulsory Vaccination in England (1884) show that even the government knew there were problems with the vaccinations of the day. Tebb refers to a report suggesting 25,000 babies succumbed to diseases brought on by vaccination.
I found that the date of this report and the new Vaccination Act of 1898, which allowed parents to obtain a certificate of exemption, and improved vaccine safety, fitted in with our missing birth registrations, especially as my husband’s great grandfather remarried in 1904 and the child from this marriage was registered. So I’m sure I have my answer.
The only way to ensure children weren’t on the Vaccination Registers was not to register their births. There was a three guinea fine for this but the prosecution, fine and/ or imprisonment for non vaccination were far more severe under the diligent Bethnal Green Health Officer. I just wish I could ask my husband’s great grandfather if I’m right. Sue Heys Editor replies: Thank you for sharing this, Sue. I think it’s a fascinating possibility and may answer a query for other family historians missing births during this period. Have other readers come across this issue?
Did vaccination fears mean births went unregistered?