Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

Professional Family History Blog
  1. Uncovering Illegitimacy: Who was Royce Brownjohn?

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    Clara Annie Jane Young was my first cousin three times removed (or my great grandfather’s first cousin). She was added to my family tree some time ago but I have only recently begun to research her family.

    Relationship between myself and Clara Annie Jane Young

    Clara married Joseph Henry Brownjohn in 1903 in Sparkhill, near Birmingham. By the time of the 1911 census the couple had moved to Leeds. An extract is shown below (click on the image to make it larger):

    1911 census for Clara Annie Jane Brownjohn formerly Young (RG14PN27070 RG78PN1549 RD500 SD4 ED17 SN264)

    There are four children listed and yet the details of the children born to Clara tells us she only had three children. At first glance it looks as though there has been a mistake on the census return.

    Thanks to the new BMD indexes available directly from the GRO we can now search birth indexes with a cross reference on mother’s maiden name before 1911. A search for Brownjohn births registered 1901-1911 with mother’s maiden name Young finds only:

    So who was Royce Brownjohn?

    Another search of the index finds:

    The “-” in the new birth index indicates illegitimacy. On websites such as Ancestry you will find the mother’s maiden name is the same as the child’s name instead, but here the child was a Brownjohn and listed as illegitimate, so who’s son was he?

    A copy of the PDF birth certificate from the GRO provides the answer (again, click on the image for a larger version):

    Birth certificate or Royce Brownjohn

    Royce Brownjohn was the illegitimate son of Clara’s husband, Joseph Henry Brownjohn and another lady, Dorothy Fern Harden. He was a typewriter salesman, she was a typist…

    The rather unusual element of this certificate is that the father is named. From 1875 the father’s name could only be included on the birth registration if both mother and father signed as informants and more often you will find certificates with the mother named only. The fact that Joseph went to the birth registration indicates that he acknowledged the child as his own. It also explains why Royce was indexed in the GRO birth index as a Brownjohn even though he was illegitimate.

    So let’s look back at the 1911 census. The relationship given is specifically to the head of the household rather than the couple, so it is correct: Christina, Cyril, Norman and Royce were all children of Joseph Henry Brownjohn. The line regarding marriage and children applies to the wife, so this is also correct: Clara married in 1903 and had three children: Christina, Cyril and Norman.

    What is most fascinating though is this: take a look again at the name of the boarder living with the Brownjohn family, none other than Dorothy Fern Harden!

  2. Starting Family History: Birth, marriage and death certificates

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    This forms Part 2 of my beginner’s guides for those just starting out with their family history research in England and Wales. Part 1 looked at the General Register or GRO indexes of birth, marriage and death in detail. Next month’s blog will consider census records.

    On 1st July 1837 legislation took effect that ordered the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Certified copies of these entries from the registers form birth, marriage and death “certificates”.

    When embarking on a journey into the history of your family the most fundamental building blocks from 1837 onwards are birth, marriage and death certificates. These provide evidence as to the places of birth, marriage and death of your ancestors but also provide a variety of information about where they lived, other family members and how they earned a livelihood.

    The detail of the information contained in each type of certificate has changed over the years but is considered in general terms below:

    Birth certificates

    • Date of birth
      –      If a time is provided this is usually an indication of a multiple birth.
    • Place of birth
      –      Before c.1880 it was common for just a village name to be entered. Later entries
      tend to have more detail.
    • Forenames
      –      Some children were registered as simply “male” or “female”. This may have been because the parents had not yet decided on a name, the baby was to be given up for adoption or the baby died shortly after birth.
    • Sex
    • Father’s name
      –     Illegitimacy: Between 1837 and 1850 there was some confusion as to whether the name of the father of an illegitimate child should be included and so sometimes it was sometimes it was not. From 1851 to 1874 the father’s name and occupation should not have been recorded if the child was illegitimate. Following the Registration Act of 1875 and up to 1953 the father’s details could only be included if both parents signed as informants.
    • Mother’s name including maiden surname
      –      An entry such as “Mary Smith late Jones formerly Johnson” indicates that the mother’s maiden name was Johnson and that she married a Mr Jones before Mr Smith.
    • Father’s occupation
    • Signature, description and residence of the informant
    • Date of registration
      –      Births were required to be registered within 42 days of the birth, thus a birth on the 2nd  December may not have been registered until January of the following year.
      There are exceptions to this requiring authorisation of the Superintendent Registrar
      or Registrar General.

    Marriage certificates

    • Date of marriage
      –      Note that there is no separate column for date of registration as marriages were
      registered as they occurred.
    • Names of bride and groom
      –      These are the names at the time of marriage and may not necessarily be the name given at birth. Some certificates will include wording such as “otherwise known as” but not all.
    • Age of bride and groom at date of marriage
      –      In 1837 the legal ages of marriage were 12 years for a girl and 14 years for a boy, with parental consent required for those under age 21 years.
      –      From 1929 the legal age of marriage was changed to 16 years for either gender with parental consent still required for those under age 21 years.
      –      From 1969 the legal age of marriage remained 16 years for either gender but parental consent was only required for those under age 18 years.
      –      “Full age” indicates someone to be age 21 or over.
    • Marital status of bride and groom
    • Occupation of bride and groom
    • Residence at the time of marriage of bride and groom
    • Name and occupation of the fathers of the bride and groom
    • Names of witnesses

    Death certificates

    • Date and place of death
      –      As with birth certificates the level of detail increased with time. Note that someone could die some distance from home and that place of death does not indicate place of residence.
    • Sex
    • Age
      –      As this was provided by the informant it was not always accurate.
    • Occupation
      –      For wives, widows and children the occupations was usually given as “wife / widow / son / daughter of ….”
    • Cause of death
    • Name and surname of deceased
    • Informant’s details
      –      From 1875 the informant’s details included the relationship to the deceased and their qualification to be an informant, e.g. present at the death.
    • Date of registration
      –      Deaths were generally required to be registered within 5 days, though longer periods were allowed where a post-mortem and / or inquest was carried out.

    Many believe that the internet sites provide access to images of the birth, marriage and death registers. Unfortunately this is not the case: What can be searched are the national or General Register Office (GRO) indexes of births, marriages and deaths for each year (see previous blog post). Once a GRO reference has been found a copy of the certificate may be ordered from the General Register Office via: http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/ or phoning 0300 123 1837. Copies are available elsewhere but tend to be more expensive than the standard £9.25 per certificate charged by the GRO. An alternative source of information is to obtain the certificate from the local Superintendent Registrar.

    Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the content of this factsheet. Please send any comments to info@professionalfamilyhistory.co.uk.

    Sources & further reading:
    1.   M. Herber, Ancestral Trails, 2nd ed., The History Press, 2008
    2.  B. Dixon, England and Wales Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificate Information, web based version (http://home.clara.net/dixons/Certificates/indexbd.htm)
    3.   J. Cole & J. Titford, Tracing Your Family Tree, Countryside Books, 2003
    4.  C. Heritage, Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records – A Guide for Family
    Historians, Pen & Sword, 2013

  3. Starting Family History: General Register Office (GRO) indexes ofbirth, marriage and death

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    As we have just entered 2014 I thought I would start the year with some beginner’s guides for those just starting out with their family history research in England and Wales. Part 1 looks at the General Register or GRO indexes of birth, marriage and death in detail. Next month’s blog will consider birth, marriage and death certificates.

    Civil registration was introduced in England and Wales on 1st July 1837. The General Register Office (GRO) was set up in London and England and Wales was divided into just over 600 “registration districts” for ease of administration, each district under the supervision of a “Superintendent Registrar”.

    Birth and death registers were completed at the time of registration by a local Registrar. Marriage registers were completed at the time of marriage by a clergyman (Church of England marriages), local Registrar (most nonconformist and all registry office marriages) or nonconformist minister (some nonconformist marriages after 1898). At the end of each quarter (March, June, September, December) the local Registrar (or clergyman) was required to copy out the births, marriages and deaths that had taken place in his sub-district during the preceding three months and send them to the district Superintendent Registrar. The Superintendent Registrar, in turn, forwarded the copies to the Registrar General.

    Once the quarterly returns had been received by the GRO they were grouped according to locality and bound into “volumes”. Originally returns were ordered alphabetically by registration district within a volume but in 1852 the volume organisation was changed such that the districts were ordered by proximity to neighbouring registration districts. To form the “GRO index” the details of each birth, marriage and death from all 600+ districts were copied again noting the volume number and page number formed within the volume by that page of returns. After this process had been completed for all returns from all districts the individual entries were sorted into alphabetical order before being copied again to form the GRO indexes for that quarter. Until 1984 this process was repeated four times a year and a separate index exists for each quarter e.g. the index for March 1878 includes all the entries for Jan, Feb and Mar 1878. From 1984 onwards the GRO index was compiled annually. A GRO index reference thus consists of five parts: the individual’s name, the year and quarter of registration (month from 1984 onwards), the registration district, the volume number and the page number.

    As is seen above, there were a number of copying stages involved in the creation of the GRO indexes and, inevitably, there were some transcription errors. Some names were misread on the register copies, some missed completely, some indexed under an incorrect district. All of these factors need to be considered when conducting a search of the index. Not finding e.g. a marriage in the GRO index does not mean that it did not occur.

    The GRO indexes of births, marriages and deaths are the records that the family historian may search on websites such as www.freebmd.org.uk, www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.co.uk. Unfortunately the indexes do not include all of the information from the birth, marriage and death certificates. The only way to establish whether the correct reference has been found is usually to order the certificate. The information included in the GRO indexes up to 1984 is summarised below:

    Birth indexes:
    Sep 1837 – Dec 1865:
    – Surname, all forenames in full, registration district, volume, page number
    Mar 1866 – Dec 1866:
    – Surname, first forename in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number
    Mar 1867 – Jun 1910:
    – Surname, first two forenames in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number
    Sep 1910 – Jun 1911:
    – Surname, first forename in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number
    Sep 1911 – Dec 1965:
    – Surname, first forename in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number plus addition of mother’s maiden surname
    Mar 1966 – Dec 1983:
    – Surname, first two forenames in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number, mother’s maiden surname

    Marriage indexes:
    Sep 1837 – Dec 1865:
    – Surname, all forenames in full, registration district, volume, page number
    Mar 1866 – Dec 1866:
    – Surname, first forename in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number
    Mar 1867 – Dec 1911:
    – Surname, first two forenames in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number
    Mar 1912 – Dec 1983:
    – Surname, first two forenames in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number plus addition of spouse surname

    Death indexes:
    Sep 1837 – Dec 1865:
    – Surname, all forenames in full, registration district, volume, page number
    Mar 1866 – Dec 1866:
    – Surname, first forename in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number plus addition of age of the deceased
    Mar 1867 – Jun 1910:
    – Surname, first two forenames in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number, age of the deceased
    Sep 1910 – Mar 1969:
    – Surname, first forename in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number, age of the deceased
    Jun 1969 – Dec 1983:
    – Surname, first two forenames in full and initials of others, registration district, volume, page number, date of birth replaces age of the deceased

    The most important dates to note are the inclusion of mother’s maiden surname on birth indexes from September 1911, the inclusion of spouse’s surname on marriage indexes from March 1912, the addition of age at death to the death indexes from March 1866 and the addition of date of birth to the death indexes from June 1969.

    Sources & further reading:
    1.     M. Herber, Ancestral Trails, 2nd ed., The History Press, 2008
    2.     M. W. Foster, A Comedy of Errors or The Marriage Records of England and Wales 1837-1899, Michael W Foster, 1998
    3.     M. W. Foster, A Comedy of Errors Act 2, Michael W Foster, 2002
    4.     J. Cole & J. Titford, Tracing Your Family Tree, Countryside Books, 2003

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