Tuesday 1 September 2015

Mixed Surnames in a Baptism Register

As an Online Parish Clerk I have been involved in transcribing hundreds of parish registers and other documents. I have had a great deal of help with this work by a small band of dedicated workers. We are reaching the end of the project having only a few years left in the baptism register for one parish, Plympton St. Mary, Devon. We started this work long before there were indexes on many commercial genealogical website. We continue it because many researchers do not have ready access to those sites and because we have found so many errors in transcriptions on these published lists. I have also been able to compile complete BMD lists for the past residents of my parishes which has helped dozens of researchers find several generations of their ancestors.

One transcriber, who was working on baptism records from the 1980s, recently told me “We have met the modern world with children born to 'partners'. . ." She encountered a number of couples where the surnames of both the father and mother were different. In some cases the children took the name of the father and some, the mother. One might assume all kinds of scenarios in these instances: where the parents were not married; where the natural parents were not living together but the father took responsibility; where one parent was a step-parent; or where one parent had changed their name after the birth of the child.

In times past, as I indicated in a post of September 15, 2013, vicars would only baptize children with the mother’s surname if the parents could not demonstrate they were married. We know there were also cases when a child baptized and/or registered with one parent’s surname changed it to the other’s many years later, as I explained in a post of February 4, 2014.

These latest entries seemed to be something different, however. We have no reason to suspect the parents were not married. Only one residence was given for the couple and there were no notes in the register commenting on their marital status. They seemed to just go by different last names at the times of the baptisms. My own daughter never changed her last name when she married either so I didn’t find this unusual.

Records showing parents with different last names can pose a problem with potentially finding the baptized individual in other records as it could be possible that the individuals might have later gone by surnames other than that shown in the baptism register. I have confirmed that each of the three children presented here were registered in the General Record Office with the same surname with which they were baptized. But on closer investigation other stories emerge. All information is in the public record and can be searched. The baptism entries are from the Plympton St. Mary baptism register (number 2712/2, 1983-1987) and used here courtesy of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, the copyright-holder. The entries show, left to right, the enrty number, date of birth, date of baptism, full name of individual baptized, father’s name and mother’s name at the time of the baptism.

Claire Rachel Wilcocks was actually born in 1974 so this 1985 baptism entry is for an adult. The maiden name of her mother, given on her civil registration, was Templeman-Rooke, not Brown as shown in the register. The name Brown is from a second marriage in 1980. Her mother and father were married in 1969. I have not found whether Claire’s father, Graham John Wilcocks died or whether the couple was divorced.

Patrick Roger Liam Shepherd was born just a few months before he was baptized but the use of his mother’s surname is curious. Additional searches revealed that Sandra’s maiden name, shown on Patrick’s birth registration, was Chappell. She married Roger G. Shepherd in 1971 and the couple appear to have had at least three children. Again, I have not found whether Roger Shepheard died before Patirck’s baptism, the couple were divorced or whether there are other aspects in the relationships at play here. Sandra went on the marry Neil Jones in 1996. This entry is curious in that Neil and Sandra were not married at the time of the baptism but he was considered Patrick father.

Sadie Yedermann has a similar story. Her mother’s maiden name was Trerise, not the Hopper shown on the baptism entry. Helen Trerise married Timothy J. Hopper in 1979. (Their names have been transcribed on Ancestry as Mellen Trerise and Timothy Mopper, just to add to the difficulties.) Sadie was born in October 1984, a full six months before she was baptized. A search for her parents brought up another marriage for a Timothy J. Hopper in 1985; so it appears the couple were divorced at some point, possibly between the dates of Sadie’s birth and baptism.

Much of this is supposition of course. Without copies of actual BMD registration documents we cannot be entirely sure of the dates and activities. But there is certainly more to their stories than the baptism records show. It begs the question about whether some past entries might be for families with similar histories, especially when a trail runs cold. A search for individuals in other records, both children and parents might reveal a more complex story than is first assumed in a single baptism entry.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated