Ancestry and Genealogy: Hints for understanding UK Genealogy Records

In the UK National records did not begin until 1837, before that BMD were recorded in Church registers. Many of these have yet to be transcribed. Don't make the very common mistake of believing that your relative MUST be the only name you find if the rest of the stuff looks wrong it probably isn't the right person.

Names
We are all very attached to our names and the way they are spelled these days. Not so in the past.
In census and other records the spelling was up to the person doing the writing and that was usually not the owner of the name. If the scribes writing was poor the transcriber may also have made a further error.
Accent also played a part and that varies widely across the English counties and meets in London. So a Yorkshire scribe and a Gloucester accent can produce some "interesting" variations. Don't be to rigid in your searches.

Church records:
Sometimes theses are in Latin and the earlier you search the more likely this is to be the case. I have created a page with translations of most of the terms used here Understanding Church and Legal Latin in UK Records which I hope you will find helpful.

BIRTHS will be recorded by BAPTISMAL date, this may be years later than the actual birth date, but cannot be earlier!!! There was a fee for baptism, even though it was a legal requirement, so poorer families often had to delay until there were funds available. That is why you sometimes find 4 or five siblings baptised at the same time, and if your using exclusively baptismal dates why you can be years out.
IF you are using the IGI, the early Mormons who created the records, were only interested in baptism when they started tracing their families, so even though most registers post 1700 also contain a birth date they ignored it. Remember this may be years out and the IGI is NOT a complete index.
Baptisms "in private" or on the day the child was born imply a sickly or premature child not expected to survive, so be wary of using these as your ancestors. Some did survive, but most did not.
Re-use of names was common practise. If the first John died the next male child would often be called John too, similarly with girls.

MARRIAGES were not recognised unless carried out in the Church of England until quite late in our history. Two separate names on a birth record implies but does not prove unmarried parents. They may have married in an unlicensed Roman Catholic or Non-Conformist Church so be regarded as unmarried by the established church.
There was a tendency for women in particular to be described as Spinster, even though actually widowed, if there were no children to the first marriage. People also lied, divorce was a very rare and expensive event, easier to move elsewhere and just ignore the past. Don't believe all you read 100%.
Full age is 21 or over therefore not needing parental consent.
Licence means didn't use Banns but paid for a Bishops Licence, often because they were working somewhere and lived elsewhere.
Banns read in Church on 3 separate occasions were a call to anyone who knew 'Just Cause 'why the marriage shouldn't happen to come forward or forever hold their peace. The fourth call was during the actual ceremony. The couple were both supposed to be present during the reading of banns hence the need for a licence if they couldn't be there. It was supposed to prevent bigamy and forced marriages but .....
Not all marriages happened even though the Banns were called 3 times. Banns alone are a pretty good indication not a proof of marriage.
This is an example of a church marriage register




DEATHS what you will see in church records are BURIAL dates, date of death is rarely recorded except on memorials and headstones. Burial will usually be within a few days of the death - no refrigeration then - so you won't be far out on those.
Some records will say certificate received with a date rather after the burial. This is not a death certificate it is a certificate by an official inspector that the corpse was wearing nothing but wool at the time of burial. Other registers will say 'buried only in wool' or something similar. The reason for this:
In order to protect our wool industry from the cotton and linen coming in cheaply from abroad the government introduced a law that all corpses were to be buried wearing nothing but wool unless a substantial fee was paid. In order to enforce this every corpse was inspected by an authorised official, sometimes the officiating clergyman was the official ,sometimes it was someone else. Hence the certificate or the clergymans entry. By 1800 this was no longer required but some clergy just kept going.

MORTALITY
Infant mortality was very high so from a family of 15 births only 3 or 4 might reach maturity. In order to ensure continuity re-use of names was common practise. If the the father was John and the first John died the next male child would often be called John until one survived, similarly with girls. Middle names were often the mothers or even grandmothers family name to insure the immortality of the line.

Many women died in, or shortly after, childbirth. If there were surviving young children the father may well marry again very soon after the death, don't judge him too harshly by todays standards. He was ensuring the care of his children and the reputation of the woman he was asking to care for them. Similarly widowed women with young children were in a pretty desperate situation.

DIVORCE
Do not assume a remarriage implies a divorce. Except among the very rich and powerful (eg King Henry VIII !!)divorce was virtually impossible. Most men would not consider an anullment as it could only happen on non-consumation of the marriage and the church wouldn't agree to much else as grounds. For women it meant a Physical inspection to prove virginity!!!!!!
Remember even the King had to resort to execution twice.
Bigamy was not altogether an unusual way out for men - just move away and start again - for women it was never easy.

TRANSCRIPTIONS

A very valuable source of information but not totally reliable. Its very easy to make a mistake copying a name or a date and that can pervert a whole line of research. Always try and back up your research with the original document.

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