Posts Tagged ‘ Norfolk ’
This month a guest expert answers your questions. John Hanson is a lecturer and teacher on family history, census fanatic and author of How To Get The Best From The 1911 Census.
‘I am looking for my great, great grandfather Simon Howcroft.
- He appears as the father on his daughter Hannah Elizabeth Howcroft’s marriage to James Frederick Bowling in the March quarter of 1876 in Tendring Registration District.
- From the 1881 census onwards Hannah appears as the wife of James (born 1854 Harwich) and born 1852 in Fakenham, Norfolk.
- I can find no record of Hannah prior to her marriage, nor can I find any record of Simon.
Can you suggest where to go next?’
‘This is one of those problems that many people face and is often a major stumbling block for many new to family history. I am not sure that I can provide an answer but can hopefully point you in the right direction.
You haven’t said whether the marriage certificate says that Simon is deceased or not, or what his occupation was. We do need to remember, however, the information there is which the bride will have told the person performing the marriage. The fact that he was stated as being deceased doesn’t guarantee that he was – I have seen certificates that say that the father is dead and he isn’t, or imply that he is alive and he is deceased – so take it with a pinch of salt.
When looking at problems like this my first port of call is to check all of the census entries for the family looking for clues. You need to check that the place of birth is consistent – in this case on all the censuses to 1911 she says that she was born in 1852 in Fakenham (or Fakham), Norfolk. You also need to look at the names of children – here we are looking for clues as to the mother’s maiden name – often used as a name on its own or as a second first name. In this case though there are no such clues with the names of the children.
A check on the GRO indexes for the period shows no birth registration of a Hannah Elizabeth, just Hannah, just Elizabeth or even a “female” Howcroft in the Norfolk area. Now it is always possible that in 1852 the birth wasn’t registered, the onus in those days being on the Registrar to go and find the births rather than the person registering them (the change in the law took place in 1874). One thing I did notice is that the name appeared to be mainly in the Lancashire/Yorkshire area so this could be a route to explore.
I can find no obvious death either for Hannah, Hannah Elizabeth Bowling or a Simon Howcroft. I would also suggest checking a surname dictionary, usually available in the reference section of your local library, as these will often suggest alternative spellings of a name.
It may be worth checking with the Local Registrar for the Fakenham area to see if they have their own index to births – some are more helpful than others. It would also be worth checking with the churches that are local to Fakenham to see if you can find a baptism. To broaden the area of baptisms further I would suggest checking with the local family history society to see if they have produced one. Alternatively searching the internet with a search term of something like ‘parish register Fakenham’ will often produce dividends.’
We hope this is useful to your research. If you would like to pose a question for our expert, please register or opt to receive newsletters in My Account.
Our expert Stephen Rigden answers your questions:
‘I have a brickwall that I would love an expert to look into to see if I can break it down. I have a baptism that I cannot find.
My 4 x great grandmother was a Leah (or Learth) Knights who, according to the 1851 census, was born in Billingford, Norfolk in around 1767. Of course I have searched all the surrounding parishes, both in Norfolk and Suffolk, along with the other Billingford in Norfolk, but have not found any entries that could be hers.
Leah married Michael Pake in Rushall in 1799 and they had several children. Leah would appear to have been quite old when she married - for those days - and she died in 1853, so I do not have any further census entries to check her place of birth. She does not appear in any settlement or other Poor Law documents, and I do not have any information about her parents. She was a spinster when she married Michael, so Knights is her maiden name and not a previous married name.
Can you please offer me any advice on how I might be able to track down her baptism?’ Jenny Manning
Steve says: “It is not possible for me to solve this without undertaking research, of course, but a few ideas occur to me.
Firstly, I assume that the parish registers you have been searching through are those of the Church of England. It is possible that the family was not part of the Established Church and the child was baptised in the nearest local Catholic church (or privately) or Non-Conformist chapel. Also, of course, it is possible that the family was not religious and simply did not bother with baptism: even though there were advantages to baptism, it is a mistake to assume that all children were baptised, or that parents baptised all of their children. It is also possible that the child was baptised not at the customary time (at about four weeks after birth) but at some later date: it is not uncommon to see parents baptising two, three or four of their children at the same time (for reasons of convenience or economy). You could therefore consider extending your search throughout Leah’s childhood years.
Census information is, by its very nature, very vulnerable to inaccuracy, as no evidence of identity was required by the authorities: they accepted in good faith whatever details the householders entered into their census forms. It is quite possible that Leah believed she was born in Billingford but was actually born elsewhere, for instance if her family moved there in her childhood. In other words, all Leah’s memories may have been of Billingford but she could have been born somewhere else entirely.
Another possibility is that she was indeed born in Billingford but not as Knights. Parental deprivation figures were high in the C18th and it is possible that her father died, her mother re-married and Leah took the name of her step-father (a Mr Knights, in this scenario). A variation on this scenario is an illegitimate birth, with the single mother then going on to marry Mr Knights. Or that Leah was born under a different surname but effectively fostered by a local family named Knights.
As you can see, there are various alternatives to consider, and you may have to consider all of them if you are to overcome this brickwall. I have answered your question in some detail as many researchers will face these kinds of problem and will need to systematically consider the manifold possibilities if they are to achieve a breakthrough.”
We hope this is useful to your research. If you would like to pose a question for Steve, please register or opt to receive newsletters in My Account.