Certainty in Genealogy                      
                                           Home Page   Family History   Tall Family Start   20 June 2012

This family history would have been difficult to complete without the tremendous aid of the Church of Latterday Saints which makes census records and parish indexes, of distant counties, easily available to the family historian. The IGI and the Phillimore Marriage Indices, at least in Cornwall, provided excellent summaries of Parish records.

Very different levels of detail as one looks backward. Few of us know anything of our ancestors beyond the lives of our parents and grand-parents. Only two family photographs exist before the beginning of the twentieth century (a photograph of Bessie Ball and one of Percy and Annie Tall and their son William). This family history can be considered as having three time periods:


Parish and Legal Records from 1500 to 1840. Two major sources:
        a) Parish records in the UK date from an edict passed by Henry VIII. Queen
            Elizabeth insisted that the edict should be carried out in the first year of
            her reign in 1559.
She insisted that the Church of England made permanent
             records of all christenings, marriages and burials.
       b) Legal records. Wills, ownership of land etc.

Initially the records were made on loose sheets of parchment, but the weakness of the system became evident and a ‘provincial constitution in Canterbury in 1597 ordered that parchment registers be bought by each parish and all names from older registers be copied in, from the beginning, but especially from the first year of her reign (1559).’ (St.Minver Church Guidebook, Cornwall, 1990, p8.)


Census and Certificate Records 1840 onwards - two major types of evidence were consistently recorded:
        a) Census records every 10 years beginning in 1841.
        b) Birth, Marriage and Death certificates beginning in 1838.


Family Memory from about 1900 to the present where the evidence was gathered from living memory, insights from photographs etc. and birth, marriage and death certificates

Records and Gender

In the earliest registers only the woman’s Christian name appears in the marriage records, though occasionally even that is absent. Female relatives may find it interesting to study figure 2 and discover just how long, though steady, has been the process of developing female equality before the law. When Nyott Doubt married, in 1603, the vicar did not record Elizabeth’s maiden name. When John Clemoes was born in 1699 his mother’s Christian name was not recorded - fortunately it was when her subsequent children were born. However, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, records of the maiden names of six of Bessies eight GreatGreatGrandmothers’ surnames were found and, it is almost certain, that if the remaining two marriages had been identified the maiden name would, again, have been recorded. Since 1837 the law has required the compulsory registration of births marriages and deaths; the information required includes the mothers’ maiden surname at each babies birth registration and both husband and wife occupations at marriage. The major difference that remains between the recording of male and female information in the UK, is that the mother’s occupation is still not required when a baby is registered or or a child marries.



What was surprising, in tracing family names, was the realisation that one could not rely on how surnames and Christian names were spelled. When the individuals concerned could neither read nor write and may not have known that the vicar had to keep a register, then the vicar spelled the names as they sounded to him. When the vicar in a Parish changed, so too did the way the various names were spelled: Clemoes, Clemows & Clemens, Hawking & Hockin, Glyddon & Glidden are alternative spellings for related members of the same family; Nyot, Niot, Niete, Niett and I believe Noah are all, I believe, the same Christian name!

Absolute certainty is impossible in genealogy. Whilst census’s can provide convincing evidence of relationships, parish records are often limited to cursory details of baptisms, marriages and deaths. Without the Church of Latter Day Saints International Genealogical Index (IGI) much of the above would have taken much longer to discover. Yet it is essential to recognise that the IGI, with all its strengths, has five limitations as a source for identifying ancestors. The IGI:

1.   ignores information on death - many children die before adulthood.
2.   only includes records from parishes where the Bishop gave permission.
      Fortunately, in Cornwall, this was not a problem.
3.  gives no indication of the incompleteness of some parish records. Although
     parishes records appear to be present the original documents may be difficult
     to decipher (Padstow), incomplete (St,Minver) and the earlier records may be
     missing completely (Little Petherick/St.Ervan). N.B. this explains why some
     lines are far more certain in figure 2.
4.  may not include christenings in non-conformist churches.
5.  includes births, christenings and marriages that cannot be found in official records.
 Entered by Church members.  Much of this data is highly suspect, the date often indicates this
    with words like 'about...'

With such limitations it can be impossible to distinguish between a range of individuals born, with the same name, in nearby parishes over a period of 40+ years. With males the problem is exacerbated by the fact that they may have children when they are 70; with females, the age range problem is much less, (fertility rapidly reduces after the mid 30’s) but, the surname at marriage may not be their birth name.  To reduce the danger that the wrong baptismal infant is chosen, marriages taking place in nearby parishes need to be studied - using this approach most alternatives can be discarded - it would be difficult for any working man to have two wives, both bearing children, in different parishes. 

Confirmation, from the parish records, that the individual selected did not die as a child is important and has been closely checked in the Cornish parishes in particular.

EXAMPLE:  Based on Cornwall

From census information it is known that Ann Ball née Lobb is Bessie’s grandmother. From the age given in the censuses, this Ann Lobb must have been the daughter of Henry Lobb and Elizabeth Gliddon - but which Henry?

After using both the IGI and Phillimore’s marriage index two major candidates were left :

Henry Lobb, christened in Padstow (ch1722) son of Henry Lobb and Joan Doubt.
Henry Lobb, christened in Little Petherick, (ch1748)
son of John Lobb and Anne Hawkin.

N.B. Only one Henry Lobb married at Little Petherick, none married at Padstow. Initially there was no evidence of the death of either of these Henry’s as a child - but the parish records at L.Petherick were much easier to comb!

Initially, Henry (1722) was selected because the Phillimore index stated that Henry came from the parish of Padstow (marriage record).  The only problem was the fact that this Henry would have been 53 when Ann was born (this is of course possible) but he didn’t appear to have a relative named John Lobb and, when the parish records for the marriage of Henry Lobb and Elizabeth Gliddon were searched, it was found that a John Lobb was a witness at the wedding.  The most logical John Lobb was Henry (1748)’s father.  Was this Henry, though christened at Little Petherick, raised at the nearby town of Padstow.  Was he therefore Anne Lobb’s father?

Further search of the IGI index showed:

         a)    that Henry (ch1748) must have moved to Padstow, because his younger siblings
                were christened there.
         b)  that the first Henry (1722) was Henry (1748) father’s brother - this meant that both Henry’s had
               a relative named John. And that, whichever Henry is Anne’s father, both seem to have descended
               from Henry Lobb (ch1686) and Joan Doubt.

The parish records also showed that when Ann Lobb married Jonathan Ball, John Lobb was again a witness. Since Ann does not appear to have a brother named John it is probable that the witness was her grandfather.

My ‘gut’ feeling was that Henry (1748) is Anne’s father.

The above analysis was written in 1991.  Further research, using initially the Church of Latter Day Saints Padstow Parish Index and later the actual Parish records, proved that Henry (1722) died in 1729. Henry (1748) was therefore Anne’s father.

Home Page   Family History    20 June 2012