Tuesday 3 September 2019

Integrating Searches

A family historian contacted me through my Online Parish Clerk (OPC) website last week looking for information that might confirm a family relationship. The problem brought up two things genealogists should always be concerned about: using a variety of sources; and the limitation of indexes.

Jeremy commented: “According to a transcript on Find my Past my 2nd great grandfather, William Saunders, married Jenny Adams in Malborough on the 22nd January 1834. I am trying to confirm that his parents were William Saunders and Elizabeth Widdecombe and am hoping that the original details of William and Jenny's marriage will provide some additional information. I wonder whether you can help by sourcing the original marriage details?

I replied that I did not have copies of the original parish registers for Malborough parish in Devon, so could not look up the details of the event in my own OPC files, but could help with looking at other data. That parish is not one that has images of its registers on FindMyPast (FMP) as many Devon areas do. The marriage  predated the establishment of civil records so Jeremy could not order a copy of the record from the General Record Office.

The Devon Family History Society (DFHS), however, has scanned the records of many parishes that do not have an agreement with FMP and they are available for society members to view. Malborough is one of the parishes the DFHS has in its library. When I looked up the event on their website, I found an image of the marriage entry that has some interesting information on it. In addition to the names of the bride and groom, of course, it also had the names of the witnesses to the event: Richard Adams, Elizabeth Adams, Mary Jane Adams, Mary E. A. Gellard, George Barkwill, and Wm. Widdicombe. That last name was a clue as to a possible relationship to the family connection Jeremy was wondering about.

The marriage entry also said William Saunders was from “Charles in Plymouth” and Jenny was living in Malborough parish. While accurate as far as their being residents in those places, it was not helpful in terms of where they were born. Plymouth is 17 miles from Marlborough, 22 miles by road, so something must have brought William to the area.

The 1841 census has the family living in Blanksmill, Malborough parish, with three of their children. A fourth, as it turned out, was staying in the area with another family member, Mary Adams. Later censuses showed the children were born in Plymouth and Jenny was born in Slapton, Devon. So, everyone was far from home! William died in 1844 in Plymouth. We find the rest of the family living in Charles, Plymouth, in all subsequent censuses from 1851 to 1891, Jenny remaining a widow until her death in 1894. Because of his death year, census records could not tell us where William was born.

The marriage of William Saunders and Elizabeth Widdecombe that Jeremy referenced actually took place in Ugborough parish, Devon, in 1803, another area to take note of. On that entry in the marriage register, available on FMP, William is shown as being from Hartford and Elizabeth from Ugborough. Now there are a few places named Hartford, but they are in Cheshire and Cambridgeshire. While it is possible William was from one of those places, it is more likely that the clerk made an error in the record and he was actually from Harford parish, Devon, right next door.

Harford is the area where a William and Elizabeth Saunders lived for many years and had nine children. I am the OPC for that parish and have copies of all of the BMD registers. One of those children was William Saunders, baptized 30 October 1805. That date fit with everything else we found about William and Jenny Saunders and the conclusion is that he is the person Jeremy was seeking information about even though we cannot yet prove the relationship.

William died in 1834 in Harford at the age of 60; Elizabeth died there in 1863, aged 86. That gives us birth years as 1774 and 1777, respectively, for the them. The 1851 and 1861 censuses show us Elizabeth was born in Modbury parish, Devon. A baptism record from that parish shows a William Saunders born in 1774. It appears they were both from the area. Note that scans of Modbury parish registers are also only available on the members only part of the DFHS site.

As I stated in the beginning, two elements of genealogical searches were important in this study. Looking at a variety of sources was necessary to find all of the relevant data: FindMyPast, Ancestry and Devon Family History Society. Individual parish registers for Harford, Modbury, Malborough and Ugborough showed us detail indexes do not. In order to put together enough information draw any conclusions we had to look at several data sites and, in particular, at copies of the original records.

In addition to investigating and integrating data from a variety of sources, I recommended that Jeremy join the DFHS in order to access much more data than database sites of Ancestry and FMP can offer for the region.