Yesterday I finally began the task of creating the individual records to go with my index. It’s quite a slow process, as it involves pulling information from my Ancestry tree and elsewhere, checking it is complete and making it conform to the standards I’ve defined for recording (and tweaking these as I go along and find out what works and what doesn’t). To try and myself progress a bit faster, I’ve banned myself from any further research until I’ve got a proper structure in place for recording things... in theory!
Walter Newby is my great-grandfather straight down the paternal line. As I was tackling his records, I noticed that I didn’t have a BMD birth record for him. My date of birth therefore was only based on his age in the 1911 census record and death record, both of which are notoriously vague. So, in the interests of making sure his file was ‘complete’, and thinking it would be fairly straightforward, I clicked on ‘search records’.
Within the first fw records appeared the parish record for his marriage, which I can only assume is a recent addition, as I’ve never come across it before when researching Walter or his wife Margaret. I can be absolutely certain that this is the correct record. However, it throws a spanner in the works because Walter’s father’s name is given as Thomas Henry Newby. Unfortunately, according to my research Walter’s father’s name is Bertie James Newby.
The first question that came to mind was should I ignore it for now and continue with my ‘no research’ policy? I could start a list of research leads as I work through my index, and then prioritise and follow-up at the end. This would be a top priority of course, being such a recent ancestor and impacting so heavily on my other research.
But what would be the point of me filling in all the details I have for Walter and his ancestors if they’re then all incorrect? On the other hand, I have always tended towards keeping a record of ‘incorrect’ info that I’ve discounted, as a) it forms a key part of my research process and b) it might be useful to someone else one day.
I decided that actually a little research would be a good idea here, because it is such a major stumbling block, and I didn’t feel that I could make a decision without more information.
First of all I started trying to work out why I had decided that Bertie James was Walter’s father. It quickly became apparent that there was no finite proof anywhere, and I had made quite a major assumption. However, I could see how I had done it.
I had made a decision about his birth year based on the BMD index entry for his death, which again I had only assumed was the right one. Realistically it is the only possibility, given that I know he died relatively young, before my father was born. In the event, the newly discovered marriage record still supports a birth year of 1905/06, so I can still have confidence in this death record and that I had his birth year correct.
There are only four Walter Newbys of the right age on the 1911 census, and one living considerably closer than any of the other three to the area where I knew that he had married his wife Margaret (because I had found their BMD index entry for their marriage). Without claiming to have gone into a lot of detail, a quick scan of the other 1911 census entries and marriage / death index entries seems to account for the other Walters and imply that Walter son of Bertie James is the one who married Margaret Thompson. I intend to revisit this assumption more closely, and see if I can actually properly discount them.
The other 1911 census entries for Walter Newbys born in the period 1905–7 didn’t have Thomas Henry as a father either (or even anything close to it). Widening my net, I got one Walter George Newby with father Thomas b. 1900 and living in Lanelly, Camartheshire, Wales. However, he was quickly ruled out by the fact that he clearly married and died in the same area, which my Walter definitely did not. There were no other obvious candidates, nor could I easily see any likely births beyond those covered by the 1911 census.
So, I have a (probably) wrong family tree line, and no likely candidates for replacement. The possibilities are that Walter and Thomas Henry are there in 1911 and I just haven’t found them yet, that they’re not there for some reason but do exist, or that Thomas Henry is a red herring, and that Bertie James is Walter’s father. This second possibility doesn’t seem all that likely. Granted it does say that Walter’s father was deceased at the time of their marriage, but he would still have known his father’s name, surely? And if not, why make one up?
The next step, I think, is to order Walter and Margaret’s marriage certificate, and see if that can shed any more light on things. I’m putting the Newby line on hold until I can resolve this. After all, it’s not as if I don’t have plenty of other ancestors to be recording!
I'm taking this as a warning about making any kind of assumption in genealogical research – in my defence, I probably made this assumption a long time ago, when I was far more naive as a researcher. But, I have learnt the lesson now, and I will be applying it. I’ll be questioning everything as I carry on with my recording – here’s hoping my entire family tree doesn’t come tumbling down around my ears!