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Solving Mysteries in your family history

I have helped lots of my clients with solving mysteries, big and small, in their family trees and I thought it may be useful to explain how I did it.

I have focused on births, marriages and deaths here and given some tips to be aware of when doing your own research.

Solving Mysteries for Births

Unknown location – Molly Patricia Crutchleigh FitzPatrick

You’d think with a name as distinctive as hers it would have been easy to find her birth details. Not so. Lots of articles mentioned Cornwall, one or two said Penzance. It was another Ancestry tree which had a story attached to her record which recorded the GRO details which meant we could ask for a copy of her birth certificate. The story was a Microsoft Word document which had been uploaded to her profile and it had to be downloaded in order to read it.

FreeBMD is a very useful site for confirming birth, marriage and death details. If you need GRO (General Register Office) details in order to apply for a certificate then use this site to find them.

Tip: Incorrect or different place of birth – Sometimes census records are wrong. Whether that is the person giving incorrect information or the enumerator writing it down incorrectly or the transcriber being unable to read the handwriting (very common!). I have lots of examples of people whose place of birth changes from one census to another. An additional fact to bear in mind here is that parish boundaries change as do town/city place names or even countries if you are looking at early Canadian history.

Solving Mysteries for Marriages

Sometimes a marriage can give you a lot more information than the bride and groom. The registers can give you father’s details (occupation/whether they are no longer living), witnesses signatures leading to other family members or whether they are under age and needed permission to marry.

Another good source of information is any newspaper mentions. The image shows a list of guests (amongst other things!) for a wedding in Hertfordshire in 1937 and is taken from the British Newspaper Archive (a subscription site).

Using this as a basis I was able to add several siblings and their families to my client’s tree. It mentions her bridesmaids being her cousins. This is an incredibly detailed account and talks about the presents, the cake, the clothes and Bishop of Norwich officiated!

Tip: When looking at newspaper articles check for different versions of the same event as there may be more information in another article. People quite often publish news in places which may not seem relevant to your search but it is the same event. For example, publishing in a local newspaper in two different counties if the bride and groom come from different places.

Solving Mysteries for Deaths

Burial place – Anne Gordon White – Tonbridge

Anne Gordon White and James Thomas White gravestone

My Canadian client wanted to find his great grandmother’s grave in Tonbridge/Tunbridge Wells. He had been searching for this for several years without success.

I first looked for local churches in Tunbridge Wells with graveyards in use at the date of death and found St Peters in Southborough. I walked around the graveyard and fortunately found her grave within 10 minutes. I took photos of the grave itself, which said it was for her and her husband, and sent them to my client.

As an aside here several online records said that her husband James Thomas White was buried in a shared grave in a cemetery in London. After consulting with my client he said they were from a wealthy family and we both agreed that the grave I found was the correct one.

Tip: Don’t believe what you find out online as a mistake may have been made many years ago and been copied by others who have not done a “sense check” especially if it is a relatively common name.

Burial place – Jean Bean – Richmond, Surrey

Transcription of the altar tomb inscription

Another ancestor of this client was known as Jean Scott when I first started researching her. After doing some digging I discovered her actual name was Jean Bean and she and her husband Dr Andrew White were buried in the Bean family tomb in Richmond in Surrey. I do not know why she was known as Jean Scott in some records as I haven’t discovered an earlier marriage for her.

Tip: If you are using Ancestry you can add an AKA fact. “Also known as”. Jean Bean is her ‘official’ name and Jean Scott is an AKA.

Lost at sea – Charles Thomas Dean

Another client said that one of great grandfathers had disappeared during the war and I discovered a sad story here – a ship sunk during WWII off Morocco with around 270 people lost.

Forces War Records entry for Charles Thomas Dean

Ancestry records gave me the name of his ship, HMS Hecla so I knew I’d found the right person on Forces War Records in the image above.

A Google search led to a website with lots of biographies and a book written about the sinking by a German U-boat on Armistice Day in 1942. A list of all people MPK (missing presumed killed) in this incident. Charles Thomas Dean is also mentioned in the Commonwealth War Graves records.

The last known photograph of HMS Hecla in 1942

Tip: If you are looking for military records try Forces War Records (a subscription site). This covers all of the armed forces and has records going back as far as the Napoleonic Wars in 1799 with some records even earlier than this.

I hope these stories and tips have proved useful. Feel free to share any of your own stories below…and if you get stuck on anything please get in touch.

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