Ryan Taylor Solving a couple of interesting problems


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By Ryan Taylor

I was asked to help with two interesting problems this week.

In the first, an experienced genealogist had a marriage registration from Ontario dated 1872. She recognized the bride’s and groom’s names, and the marriage date was the one she had expected.

However, the supplementary information about the groom gave a birthplace, birthdate and parents’ names which did not match her information. A man born in Ontario was said to be born in New York State. She was in a quandary.

A civil registration record -- very official -- bears a lot of weight. Also, any document which records an event at which the person in question is actually present also must be taken seriously. We can assume the groom was present at his own wedding.

What to do?

We looked at the other resources which supplied the information. The first item she had was a death certificate. These are never trustworthy, because you don’t know who supplied the information, and anyway, you can be reasonably sure the person in question is not present to check the facts.

There were other materials -- census for the birthplace, for instance. In the end, she said she had 38 items with information, all of which came down on one side, with only the marriage document on the other.

"But the marriage document is always the most trustworthy," she said. I told her no. For birth information, a birth document (birth certificate or baptismal record) is the best.

Civil registration had begun only in 1869. Marriage records in this early period have a murky life. It was the responsibility of the officiating clergyman to send in the registration. He might record the event in his register, then take the official version to the township office later. This means the township’s version is a copy.

Later these would be transferred to the official ledgers in Toronto. That means a second copy must be made. The official version is therefore a third-generation copy. The possibility for error present in two copying processes, done by hand by the clergyman and a clerk, is clear.

I felt sure that somebody else’s parents and birth data had been copied into the marriage record in question by accident. I told the genealogist I felt she was justified in rejecting the information, since she had a number of other records in hand. When she writes her family history, she will need to mention this record and why the information is considered incorrect.

The second situation had a sad ending.

An inexperienced genealogist was searching for a woman named Mary Morris who was married in 1915. Her widowed mother ran a boarding house. The search was to find mother, daughter and boarders in the census.

Despite the use of a good index, Mary Morris was nowhere to be found. The genealogist had spent a long time in the search and was feeling annoyed and frustrated.

It was only when she showed a pedigree chart which showed Mary’s parents as Isaac Mills and Elizabeth Mills that light dawned. It was this genealogist’s habit to refer to women always by their married names. In doing so she had tricked herself into looking for Mary under a name she did not assume until 1915. In the census, she would have appeared as Mary Mills.

Now annoyed with herself for wasting so much time, the genealogist went directly home.

For genealogists, referring to women always by their married name is a genteelism which can lead to trouble. It is always wise to refer to women by their maiden names to avoid difficulties.

Column copyright © 2002 Ryan Taylor

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