Sophisticated Use of the Census

The following is based on some research I did for a client during my work as a professional genealogist. It has been reproduced here with his permission. I would never disclose details about a client’s research without their permission to do so.

It does show some advanced techniques that are sometimes necessary to overcome brick walls in research, even when ancestors used different surnames.

The research concerns Charles Stratton (although the name is sometimes recorded as Strattion). It was already known that Charles had married a lady named Mary Lewis at All Saints, South Acton, on 14 September 18911. The entry of the marriage from the parish register recorded that Charles was then age twenty-seven, a bachelor, a labourer, the son of Charles Henry Stratton, also a labourer.

Taking the above information at face value, he was probably born about 1864, and so we could reasonably expect to locate him on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census returns. Yet, he could not be located on any of them. Charles died in 1896 before the next census after his marriage was taken.

A search in the General Register Office Index of Births for boys named Charles Stratton (and variants) failed to show any particularly promising matches. However, there was a baptism of a Charles Stratton on 12 June 18642, at St. Stephen Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, which had been located by way of the extensive London area parish register collection available through Ancestry. This boy was recorded as the son of Charles and Mary Ann Stratton, of 5 Williams Cottages, Latymer Road. It wasn’t yet confirmed that this was the correct baptism.

Even with the above, it was not possible to locate the family on the above mentioned census returns under the name of Stratton or variants. Locating them on the census really was the best chance of being able to follow the family back further. Or at least eliminate the 1864 baptism as incorrect.

I therefore did what I would call an advanced census search. By this I mean that I searched for all boys named Charles (no surname was specified), born about 1864 in Hammersmith, whose parents were recorded on the census as Charles/Henry and Mary Ann. You would be surprised how few matches this sort of search brings up.

There was one entry which stood out on the 1861 census. This was for a family headed by a Charles and Mary Ann Smith, who had a son named Charles, then age seven, born in Hammersmith. They were living at 1 Charlotte Terrace, Hammersmith3. Also in the household were some younger siblings, including a daughter Elizabeth, then age just two months. A search in the General Register Office Index of Births did indicate that there was a girl named Elizabeth Stratton whose birth was registered in the area in the first quarter of 1871.

A copy of the birth certificate for this Elizabeth Stratton was obtained4. She was born on 19 February 1871, at 1 Charlotte Terrace, Hammersmith. Therefore proving that the Stratton family had been recorded on the 1861 census as at that address as Smith. This girl’s mother’s maiden surname was Fisher, and when a search was done in the General Register Office Index of Births (the newer version as re-indexed with mother’s maiden surnames), Charles’ birth stood out. His birth had been registered as John Charles Strattion.

So why should the Stratton family appear on the census as Smith? There was a small possibility that it was a transcription error by the census enumerators. The pages of the census that we now see (1911 excepted), are not the forms completed by the household themselves, but they are summary books copied up from these returns. Copying up is a process in which errors can creep in. So, if the householder had poor handwriting, perhaps Stratton had been read as Smith. This is however quite a wild error.

The Stratton family were found on the 1871 census, again as Smith. This time they were living at 13 Manchester Street, Kensington5. The head being recorded as Henry Smith (using his middle name). I would speculate that the household had intentionally chosen to conceal themselves by using the surname Smith rather than Stratton.

The above represents some of the barriers that can meet genealogists in a complicated case, even in the Victorian period: surname spelling variations, use and substitution of middle and first names and using completely different surnames!

  1. Parish Registers of All Saints South Action, Register of Marriages 1873-1918, page 73; London Metropolitan Archives: DRO/56/13
  2. Parish Regosters of St. Stephen Shepherds Bush, Register of Baptisms 1850-1895, page 69; London Metropolitan Archives P80/STE/3
  3. 1871 Census for 1 Charlotte Terrace, Hammersmith; The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO): RG10/66 folio: 78 page: 34
  4. Birth Certificate for Elizabeth Strattion; General Register Office, Births in the Quarter Ending March 1871, name: Strattion, Elizabeth district: Kensington volume: 1a page: 173
  5. 1881 Census for 13 Manchester Street, Kensington; TNA: PRO: RG11/34 folio: 70 page: 7

General Register Office Adds Search Facility for Historic Births and Deaths

On going to carry out a routine client order this morning, I noticed a change to the General Register Office website. It would appear that the General Register Office have added the facility to search their own copy of the index. Importantly, and only having had a cursory look, their index seems to add the ability to look at mother’s maiden surnames prior to 1911, and ages at death prior to 1867. Both or which will significantly ease ordering of a correct certificate.

It would appear that you have to be a registered user and signed into the site to see the index.

I am guessing the data is from the aborted digitization of vital events (DOVE) project, so I am guessing was indexed from the originals, rather than the old indexes.

This could prove a great help to many family mysteries, and saved wasted time and money ordering the wrong certificates.

Is this the start of access to non certified copies from the historical indexes?

Interesting Family History Cases

One of my most interesting recent cases involved tracing a clients family back from the London suburbs to rural Oxfordshire, and the interesting discovery that my client’s great great great grandfather had been transported to Bermuda for a period of fifteen years for burglary! He did return to the UK after around 8 years.

Finding ancestors with criminal records can always give a great deal of extra detail. For example, the ancestor in question who had been born about 1820, was 5 feet 7 inches tall, of fair complexion with dark brown hair and had a birth mark about an inch long on his left thumb!


How accurate are birth dates on the 1939 register?

The 1939 register from has now been available for about 3 weeks. I have already used it on several occasions to help with clients research including two occasions where someones name has changed. The “exact” date of birth given by individuals and recorded in the register can be a great checking point against a birth certificate. But, how accurate are these dates? I don’t mean how accurate have they been transcribed, I mean do they tie in with the date of birth on an individuals birth certificate?

So far, I have got dates of birth for 13 individuals who I also have birth certificates for. Of this admittedly small sample 100% have the correct day and month. 84% have the correct year. Unsurprisingly it is the oldest individuals that have the wrong years of birth, and all are recorded as older than they really are.

What are you experiences? If anyone has some exact date I would love to compile some better statistics.

Using Justice’s Diaries to Add Detail to Ancestors Lives

When undertaking research for my clients, or in my own study, I am always on the lookout for sources that add more than just vital events. Whilst having dates of birth, marriage and death etc. are very important, that don’t put meat on the bones of the story.

One unusual source that I have used on several occasions in my own research are justice of the peace diaries for various members of the Brockman Family, of Beachborough, Kent. The originals are at the British Library (Add MSS4259801) but the copies I viewed were on microfilm at what was the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone, now at the Kent Library and Archives Centre in Maidstone.

The first concerns my 6th Great Grand Father, James Griggs (1735-1835) from an entry in 1760:

“Xber 12 On complaint of Rd Haris Jam[e]s  Griggs of Liminge [Lyminge] was seen
in his grounds wth ferretts & netts to take Rabbits, I grant a warr[an]t
to search his House &c for of same & to have hime before a Justice
Sd Jam[e]s Griggs was bro[ught] before me coonfessed it fact. I ordered
him to pay 5/. s he declared Francis Colley was with him
& had netts & Ferrets w[ic]h he carry’d away with him”

In contrast, James grandfather, William had made a complaint in 1727 on the other side of the law:

“Wm Griggs of Sellindge maketh Oath that last night after ye hour of nine his dwelling House in ye sd Parish was broke into and he misses from then sundry Mead to ye quantity of about a bushells as also a great Coat and further that a Lock was broke off from his stable door that when he came into that stable tis morning he horse was hot and wett and seem’d to have been rid in ye night as appeare further by ye saddle and bridle being wet and he has found such footsteps of a horse this morning that he has reason to suspect that said robbery may have been committed by Wm Barnes of Brabourne or Tho: Priggs of Hasting Lye or one or both of them, they being persons who have no livelyhood and of an ill reputation having been suspected of pilfering about the neighbourhood”.

Sorry for the bad spelling, I have remained faithful to the originals!



1939 Register Finally Being Released on Monday November 2nd

FindMyPast have announced that the much awaited 1939 register will be released on Monday 2nd November [link here], they do not mention a time, but I imagine whatever time of day it will be, that the website will probably melt down!

To view a household from the register will cost £6.95 (this is above the cost of a subscription), although a bundle of five households can be purchased for £24.99, so costing about £5 per household. Reading subscribers views on the announcement there are many people who are very angry about the extra charges.

However, I have managed to gleam from some of the replies by FindMyPast to the comments a little more about how the redacted information will work. Anyone over the age of 100 years old will be visible. If someone, who would now be less than 100 years old died before 1991, then they will be visible (I assume that the NHS who used this document were still updating it until 1991). If someone died after 1991 it will be necessary to submit a death certificate to have the record unlocked.

I know what I will be doing on Monday morning!

Suspicious Deaths in Monks Horton

I have been tracing my own family history for a long time. Many years ago, I discovered the burial of my 7 x great grandfather, Peter Griggs at Monks Horton, which was on the same day as another man, by the name Stephen Allin or Allen:

July 3 Stephen Allin
Peter Griggs

Extract from the parish records of Monks Horton

Of course, this burial record is vital in my research.

Recently, a great deal of local newspaper material has been put online – known as the British Newspaper Archive. In addition, the newspaper articles in its collection have been indexed. This has lead me to search for my ancestors. A few things that I have learned from searching…

Generally, first names have not been used. A lot of my ancestors have simply been known as ‘Griggs’. This makes it hard to ensure a newspaper article involves your ancestor or another with the same name.

Secondly, the OCR (optical character recognition) used to index the articles is quite poor – but still better than no index at all.

Thirdly, you never know what gems you are going to find!

Anyway, back to Peter Griggs. A search for the term ‘Griggs’ revealed many articles, but among them in the Kentish Gazette for Wednesday July 6th, 1768 includes the following shocking piece:-

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (
Image reproduced with kind permission
of The British Newspaper Archive

On Thursday last, as four men were going to shop at Horton, near Brabourn, to fetch some bread, they were met by some young fellows, who took them to a neighbouring house where spirituous liquors are sold, and insisted on their drinking to so great an excess that two of them, named Griggs and Allen, both upwards of 70 years, are since dead. They were buried on Sunday; but their bodies have been since taken up, for the examination of the Coroner’s inquest.

It seems like then, as now, the press liked to sensationalize things as in the following edition published on July 9th, 1768 appeared the following:-

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (
Image reproduced with kind permission
of The British Newspaper Archive

We have been informed by some of the company that were present, at Barbourn near Horton, with two men named Griggs and Allen, as mentioned in our last, and who are since dead thro’ excess of drinking; that they were not by any means compelled to drink the liquor, but drank of their own accord with the company then present. Neither have the bodies of the deceased been taken up, as was at first reported.

So it seems like Peter was left to rest in peace after all.

I actually wonder if this was all a bit of a cover up. “The company” are never named, and seem like they want to quash the whole thing. Smuggling was rife in the neighbourhood at this time. A few years earlier, the following appeared in the Monks Horton parish records (same source as above):

1753 Tho son of Tho: & Sarah Fisher baptised Nov: 21.
N:B: These persons left Horton sometime after Mich[aelmas] 1753 being apprehensive of his being taken as an outlawed person for smugling [sic].

By the way, Sarah, nee Griggs, was Peter’s daughter! Guess we will never know.

Where did 11 days go?

Today is 14th September, the previous date would universally be accepted as 13th September. But this was not the case in 1752 in Britain.

As part of the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar (which we use now) and to realign the days with the seasons, 11 days were skipped. The day after 2nd September was the 14th September.

I wonder how our computers would have coped with such a blip? I wouldn’t want to pay interest on my mortgage for them, but would be happy to be paid for the whole month.

Don’t get me started on the new year beginning on 25th March – that’s for another day.

1939 Register Coming Soon!

I am very excited about the forthcoming release of the 1939 register by which should occur sometime in 2015, as long as the release date does not get pushed back. Perhaps the launch day will be 29th September which is the anniversary  of when the original was taken 76 years ago?

I do have a few concerns surrounding the publication of the data, mostly related to how you will go about proving that someone has died (persons who would be under the age of 100 now and not recorded as deceased will not be visible without proof that they have passed on).

In any case, it should help a lot of people get into genealogy. I will review the register as soon as it is launched.

My First Post

On this blog I will cover some of the interesting stories I have uncovered whilst reserching mine and others family history.

I will also comment on some news worthy genealogical items and review some of the online and offline sources used by family historians.

I hope you enjoy

Tony Griggs